You are on page 1of 10

Long term effects of poaching on elephants

Global terrorism, government instability, climate change, murder, bribery, pharmaceutical

shortages are all atrocities that are effectuated by the demise of the African elephant (Christy
2015 and Platt 2013). Noted conservationist, Carl Safina declared African elephants are gone
from 90 percent of the lands they roamed as recently as 1800, when, despite earlier losses, and
estimated twenty-six million elephants still trod the continent. The demise of the African bush
elephant, scientifically known as Loxodanta a. Africana, is the long admired elephant tusk which
has been used as jewelry, weaponry, artwork, and currency. Elephant tusks are considered
superior and therefore strong demand exists as it has a particular texture, softness, and [it lacks]
a tough outer coating of enamel (Rosen).
Elephant tusks are obtained by slaying the elephant to extract the tusk thereby having a
significant effect on the biodiversity of the region and creating an immense disruption in the
complex elephant communities. Elephants have shown to have complex social interactions
exhibited by vocalization and intricate social structures revealing high level cognition.
The study of cognition in animals has greatly advanced, moving from the inability to have any
thought or feeling as summarized by Descartes to the revelation animals can possess great
degrees of thought and have emotion as theorized by Darwin. Although the study of cognition in
animals grew slowly, the last twenty years has yielded considerable advancements (Byrne et al.,
65). With the advancements proving high level cognition in elephants and the current rise in
elephant poaching a new strategy must be developed to conserve these creatures.

Cognition in Elephants
Elephants demonstrate high level cognition through observable complex communication
traits of vocalization to interact within family units and the broader elephant community. A key
piece of early research going beyond the original "eyewitness conclusions was conducted by
Joyce Poole and her team in 1988 at the Amboseli Elephant Research Project. Poole's study
in elephant vocalization, The social contexts of some very low frequency calls of African
elephants, suggested that low frequency calls have long distance effects that explain some of
the remarkable coordination of behavior observed between groups of elephants (Poole et al.
386). Poole found that using different rumbles, ranging from the greeting to post copulatory,
revealed the high level of social complexity as distinct rationale on behalf of the elephant had to
be mentally synthesized in a selection of a rumble. For example, the greeting rumble is used to
greet members of closely linked bond groups or other family members only; this point is
supported by a study from Cynthia Moss, another prominent expert in the field of elephant
research and affiliated with the Amboseli Research Project (Poole et al. 387). Lastly,
communication is selective in an elephant community and elephants choose which rumble to use
and will reserve the type of rumble and frequency for genetically linked bond group members.
Deeper research into contact calls lends support to the existence of broader community
interaction and through the ability to discern calls solidify the theory of high level cognition in
elephants. Karen McComb, an expert in experimental psychology and animal behavior published
research at the University of Sussex and the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, discussed new
findings in elephant vocal recognition in Unusually extensive networks of vocal recognition in
African Elephants. The study drew on previous research on the presence of vocal interactions

but presents new information on the types of interactions dependent on pre-existing

relationships. In order to illustrate the presence of vocal interactions and observe how vocal
interactions are acknowledged, altered, or dismissed among differing elephant populations,
McComb, et al., creates an index on relative interaction. The relative interaction index is meant
to show the degree of reactions to a contact call based on family/bond group level, discrimination
beyond family/bond group level, overall vocal recognition capabilities, and long-term memory of
individuals call (McComb et al. 1106-1107). Furthermore, female African elephants possess
mental capacities to distinguish between frequent and are infrequent associates (McComb et al.
1107). Thus female elephants possess high-level vocal recognition that is able to resolve complex
recognition dilemmas; these activities are consistent with the mental faculties of other high level
cognition primates.
Communities and social interactions
Prior to the initial studies on vocalization and the subsequent use of vocalization to
negotiate social situations, research was conducted to study the observable family units prevalent
in African elephants. The intricate social order and navigation of social settings further illustrates
the high level of cognition in elephants. Moss and Poole, leading experts in the study of African
elephants, in a 1982 general text on social structures on primates, note elephants are born into
stable groups of related females, an elephants relationships radiate well beyond the family group
through a multiered network of relationships encompassing a whole population (315). The
introductory section drew on the same 1972 study on elephants in the Amboseli Research
project. Expanding on this research, Elizabeth Archie, et al., behavioral ecologist at Duke
University, test existing strategies of social order at Amboseli National Park and Tarangire
National Park, in her 2004 research paper, Dominance rank relationships among wild female

African elephants, Loxodonta africana concluded that the research applies preexisting theories
on how animals will create social rankings dependent on the availability and use of resources to
twenty elephant families. The research indicates the hierarchies among female members are not
based nepotism; rather, they are complex thought and fluid among family members (Archie et al.
124). Family units and hierarchy complexities grow the theory that elephants possess thought
and further inquiry into the navigation between families will reveal the high level of community
Community structures and the interaction between different bond groups has been long
studied in the African bush elephant and recent research has given insights into the complexities
and transitive communities that are prevalent in elephants. Zoologist George Wittemyer et al.
conducted research on social stratification and groupings, publishing The sociology of
elephants: analysis of the processes creating multiered social structures, which argues elephants
interact among each other based on communities that are defined by having four tiers as the basis
for interaction. The first and second tiers are based on genetic similarities with the remaining two
based on frequency of association. The research concludes high fluidity among second and third
tier bond groups based on wet and dry seasons and fusions of lower-tier units into higher-tier
units and fissions of higher-tier units into lower-tier units occurred regularly (Wittemyer et al.
1365). Decision making based on seasons is indicative of high level cognition.

Ethical Dilemma

Through the studies of vocalization, family structures, and community dynamics a high
level of cognition is evident and elicits the ethical question do elephants feel? Frans de Waal,

primatologist suggests elephants, which, pick up ivory or bones of herd member, holding the
pieces in their trunks and passing them aroundDo they miss each other? Do they recall how he
or she was during life? Since the cognition of elephants is evident society must undertake
initiatives to curtail the dwindling elephant population due to poaching.

Elephants in Decline

Profits and Decline

Elephants tusks historically have held significant value and demand has come from many
corners of the globe. Worldwide recognition of the decline in elephant populations, prompted
CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora),
to take action and passed international rules to curtail the slaughter of elephants for tusks.
However, the attempt to stem the trend of poaching has had mixed effects and has caused the
price of ivory to skyrocket. CITES reports in their study Elephants In The Dust that the ivory
trade has doubled since 2007 and the crisis is on pace to equal the same high levels which
prompted the 1989 ban (Cites 6). The rise of poaching can be attributed to the value of tusks
which have reached astronomical levels with prices rising rising exponentially, from $200 per
kilogram in 2004 to $6,500 per kilogram in 2008 (Wasser et al. 69). The chart below illustrates
the declining population of elephants and traces the brief population stabilization after the 1989

Figure 1: From The International Ban of Ivory

Sales and Its Effects on Elephant Poaching In

Through Figure 1, it reveals the decline of elephant populations to the point of eradication is
emerging in many nations such as Sudan, Somalia, DRC and Cote dIvoire. Each nation had
large elephant populations in the 1970s, however poaching has significantly decreased elephant

Poachers and Patrons

Slaughtering elephants to extract tusks has a long history and reached epidemic levels in
the 20th century. African poachers are driven by the high profit motives and are affiliated with
corrupt government officials and terrorist groups. Jeffrey Gettlemen, New York Times East
Africa bureau chief, defines the players in the tusk trade, in his report Elephants Dying in Epic
Frenzy as Ivory Fuels Wars and Profits. Gettlemen address the role of institutional corruption
through Members of some of the African armieslike the Ugandan military, the Congolese
Army and newly independent South Sudans military have been implicated in poaching
elephants and dealing in ivory. Furthermore, the ivory trades profits are used to fund
insurgency efforts by some of Africas most notorious armed groups, including the Lords

Resistance Army, the Shabab and Darfurs Janjaweed (Gettlemen). The diverse players in
elephant poaching is alarming and shows no sign of slowing down.
The patrons of elephant tusks have come from across the globe but has been heavily
concentrated with demand from Asia. Specifically, demand from China has been the chief
consumer of ivory (Cites 70). Demand for ivory in China account for 70 percent of the illegal
ivory trade (Gettlmen). Although, the Chinese government has implemented policies in
accordance with international laws against ivory demand has increased with the vast middle class
(Gettlemen). Chinese demand and the high price of tusks is exacerbating the poaching problem
leading to the increased levels of poaching.

Poaching Long Term Effects

Elephant poaching experienced a brief decline after the 1989 ban however poaching has
long term effects on elephant populations and has shown to be rising (US Fish 1). Poachings
effects on the elephant community are seen through the disruption of the family unit. The family
unit is critical to the elephants need for social relationships for continued biological success.
George Wittemyers research, Comparative Demography of an At-Risk African Elephant
Population, addresses the disruptions in the family structure due to poaching and environmental
changes. Elephants groups that had deceased members dissolved leading to a surge of orphans
without guidance from older family members (Wittemyer et al. 8). Furthermore, elephant
lifespans are diminished on the effected elephant population (Wittemyer et al. 9). Poachings role
in disrupting elephant social structures hinders the long term biological success of elephants.

Works Cited
Archie, Elizabeth, et al. Dominance rank relationships among wild female African elephants,
Loxodonta africana. Animal Behaviour. 71(2006):117-127. Print.
Byrne, R.W. et al. Elephant cognition in primate perspective. Comparative Cognition &
Behavior Reviews. 4(2009): 65-79. Print.
Christy, Bryan. "How Killing Elephants Finances Terror in Africa." National Geographic:
Images of Animals, Nature, and Cultures. National Geographic, 12 Aug. 2015. Web. 22
May 2016.
Douglas-Hamilton, et al. The sociology of elephants: analysis of the process creating
multitiered social structures. Animal Behaviour. 69(2004):1357-1371. Print.
Gettleman, Jeffrey. "Elephants Dying in Epic Frenzy as Ivory Fuels Wars and Profits." The
New York Times. The New York Times, 2012. Web. 16 May 2016.
Glennon, Michael J. Has International Law Failed the Elephant?. The American Journal of
International Law 84.1 (1990): 143. Web.
Laws, R. M. Elephants as agents of habitat and landscape change in East Africa. Oikos.
21(1970): 1-15. Print.
McComb, Karen, et al. Unusually extensive networks of vocal recognition in African
Elephants. Animal Behaviour. 59(2000):1103-1109. Print.
Moss J, C and Joyce H. Poole. Relationships and social structure in African elephants. Primate
Social Relationships and Integrated Approach. (1982):315-325. Print.
Poole, et. al. The social contexts of some very low frequency calls of African elephants.
Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. 22(1988): 385-392. Print.
"Endangered Species Act | Overview." Endangered Species. Web. 22 May 2016.

Perlez, Jane. "Ivory Trade Is Banned to Save the Elephant." The New York Times [New York] 17
Oct. 1989. The New York Times. The New York Times. Web. 21 May 2016.
Platt, John R. "What Happens When Forest Elephants Are Wiped Out in an Ecosystem?" Web
log post. Scientific American. Scientific American, 1 Mar. 2013. Web. 22 May 2016.
Wittemeyer, et al. Comparative Demography of an At-Risk African Elephant Population.
PLOS. 8(2013): 1-10. Web.
"What Is CITES?" CITES. Web. 22 May 2016.