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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

If we stopped poaching tomorrow, elephants would still be in big trouble

If we stopped poaching tomorrow, elephants would still be in big trouble

It is the dead of night. The day’s red-dust heat has given way to a cooling breeze. A hundred frogs chirp urgently. Tim and his crew are preparing for another stealth raid. Their mission is highly dangerous and now there’s a new threat: armed men are following them.

This is the scene repeated nightly on the eastern fringes of Amboseli national park in Kenya, close to the border with Tanzania. Tim is an elephant who, along with a group of up to 12 other males, has developed a taste for the tomatoes and maize growing on local farms on the outskirts of the park. The armed men are park rangers who have been tasked with keeping him from the crops – and saving his life.

The nocturnal game of cat and elephant is just one example of a much bigger problem playing out across Africa and Asia. It is the sharp end of an existential conflict between people and wildlife for land, food and water. It is also a departure from the traditional story of elephant conservation, which presents the big threat to the world’s largest land animal as ivory poachers and the trinket-buyers in Chinese bazaars. The ivory trade has had a significant impact, for sure, but habitat destruction caused by human population growth and development is a far more pervasive threat.

“Poaching attracts a lot of media attention, but it’s only part of a big picture,” says Julian Blanc of the UN Environment Programme in Nairobi, Kenya. “If we somehow stopped poaching tomorrow, elephants would still be in big trouble.” Habitat loss in Africa threatens many other species too, from giraffes to geckos.

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