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Arvind Cadambi
Professor Lynda Haas
Writing 39C
29 May 2016
Combatting Elephant Poaching for Ivory to Stabilize Elephant Declining Populations
Global terrorism, government instability, climate change, murder, bribery, pharmaceutical
shortages are all issues plaguing society and are all present in the ivory trade (Christy and Platt).
The ivory trade relies on the slaughter of primarily older African elephants who are heavily
sought after for their long tusks (Chiyo et al. 5217). Their tusks have long been used for jewelry,
weaponry, artwork, and currency. Moreover, 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). The demand for ivory has caused the African elephant to be
poached at alarming rates leading to 100,000 African elephants being killed between 2010 to
2012 (Wittemeyer et al. 13119). The recent accelerated population loss exacerbates the long
standing decline which has led to African elephants [being] 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 (Safina 109). The declining elephant population has far
reaching effects and current policies to stem the flow of ivory needs to be revitalized.
Elephant tusks are obtained by slaying the elephant to extract the tusk; therefore, having a
significant effect on the biodiversity of the region and creating an immense disruption in the
complex elephant communities. The disrupted social structures have far reaching effects on the
elephant populations as elephants are social animals and possess high level cognitive abilities.
Cognition in elephants is supported by their vocalization and intricate social structures. 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). Research on elephant has transitioned from observational conclusions to cutting edge
experiences using the latest technology in GPS tracking, digital audio recording, and DNA
analysis. The research advancements are showing high level cognition and furthermore,
revealing empathy in elephants who possess emotions similar to humans such as loss, sorrow,
and anger (Safina 100).
Vocalization. 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 et al., 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

Figure 1: Responses to paired playbacks of calls from females that had high versus low association indices
with the subjects (McComb et al. 1107).

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 structure.
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.
The inability to converse similar to humans has been used as evidence that animals have empty
minds and therefore killing animals has been justified (Safina 79). Furthermore, speciesism,
developed by psychologist and philosopher, Richard Ryder, is a term to describe humans feeling
superior to animals and therefore, killing animals is justifiable. Ryder argues against speciesism
as all animals are biologically similar and therefore, must be treated with the same value of life
afforded to humans. Both arguments promote the argument for securing the lives of elephants.
First, elephants have shown to use intricate communication through conversation and therefore,


support the premise elephants possess a full not empty mind. Second, the community groups that
elephants are dependent reveal how similar elephants are to humans and their need for
community interaction. Disrupting elephant populations on the basis of superiority or lack of
mind is invalid and action must be taken against their tremendous 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
illustrates the declining population of elephants and traces the brief population stabilization after
the 1989 ban.


Figure 2: From The International Ban of Ivory Sales and Its

Effects on Elephant Poaching in Africa (CITES)

Furthermore, Figure 2 illustrates the decline of elephant populations to the point of eradication is
occurring 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.
Poachings 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.



Current Solutions. The decline of elephant populations has been attributed to the rise of
poaching; therefore, combatting the ivory trade has been a global challenge replete with any
collaborative multinational effort. Attempts to curb poaching and reduce the ivory trade can be
seen through the Endangered Species Act, African Elephant Conservation Act, and the CITES
(Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). CITES [aims] to ensure that
international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival
(CITES). CITES is widely subscribed to with many nations ratifying the treaty including the
United States, China, Congo, Kenya, and Nigeria (all players in the ivory trade).
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) passed in 1973 was an attempt to protect and
recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend (FWS). The ESA is a
U.S. law and is the basis for the support for the international CITES objectives. Through the
ESA, the US Congress went on to address the dwindling elephant population of the 1970s by
passing the African Elephant Conservation Act (AECA) of 1989. This act was meant to provide
financial assistance to promote elephant conservation and provide further financial support to
CITES banned ivory by classifying elephants as an endangered species with a severely
depressed population (Perlez). The ban was meant to stem demand from the largest consumers of
ivory in 1989: The United States and Japan (Perlez). The CITES ban was instrumental in
creating worldwide awareness and action to the problem; however, some nations later balked at
the treaty. Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique, Malawi, and Burundi all either had large
stockpiles of ivory or were looking to continue in the profitable ivory trade and therefore did not
honor the treaty (Perlez).

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Policy Issues. All of the attempts above were international treaties that attempted to create global
policy to stem the declining elephant populations due to poaching. CITES, the most impactful as
it is a global coalition, was successful in curtailing elephant poaching and setting up a formal
monitoring system, MIKE (Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants). However, CITES did
not stave off the demand that resurfaced primarily from Chinese buyers with the rise of their
economy in the 1990s. Additionally, CITES leaves the policing and policy of the ivory trade up
to each nation which allows for corruption and lack of enforcement (Lemeux and Clarke 454).
Furthermore, each policy had drawbacks as it fails to tackle the two drivers of the ivory trade,
demand from China and the lack of a local solution to the economic ailments of the regions
located within elephant habitats.
New Solutions. Therefore, a solution to poaching must be multi-pronged, encompassing
incentivizing the local players in Africa and a targeted social media campaign in China to present
the facts on the harms of the ivory trade. Mwangi Kimenyi, senior fellow with the Brookings
Institute suggests a new approach that emphasizes community interaction in The Dilemma of
Destroying Ivory as an Anti-Poaching Strategy. He proposes implementing policies that provide
for greater financial inclusion to local people; specifically, the tourist industry should provide
economic inclusion to the economically depressed indigenous. Incentivizing local actors should
address institutional corruption and local poverty which both rely on poaching revenue for
survival. Additionally, he advocates against burning confiscated ivory and rather flooding the
market to push depress prices. Depressing prices could be a temporary attempt to cut into the
profits of poachers but should be apart of a multi-pronged strategy. Lastly, a social media
campaign can be implemented in China to help educate the public about the facts on how ivory is
sourced and the consequences of acquiring ivory. Social media has shown to be effective and

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plays a central role in the new media (Shirky). Clay Shirky, journalist and Morrow scholar,
discusses the power of social media, in his Ted talk, How social media can make history. The
Chinese have already shown to significantly adopt social media as a means of communication
seen through the recent coverage of a large earthquake (Shirky). The Chinese government
learned about the earthquake from eyewitness social media reports and were unable to suppress
the information as the Chinese government usually does (Shirky). Thus, the foundation of social
media is powerful and already in use in China whereby implementing a campaign to enlighten
people on the effects of poaching can be quickly effective. An information campaign can be
effective as Iain Douglas Hamilton in a U.S. Senate hearing, Ivory and Insecurity: The Global
Implications of Poaching in Africa testified Chinese demand is high yet Chinese people place a
high value on their own elephants. The Chinese placing values on their elephants allows for
appeals of empathy to be made of the plight of elephants being killed in Africa for Chinese ivory
consumption. The strategy may have setbacks as Chinese may not care as it is not elephants
being killed in their country. Yet, even a conversion of a small portion can have dramatic effects
on reducing demand.
Elephants are being systematically eradicated in Africa for the purpose of extracting their ivory.
The ivory trade was once diminishing yet new demand from a rising middle class in China
rekindled demand and has set prices soaring. Furthermore, the ivory trade helps global disruptors
as the sale of ivory is being used in insurgency and terrorist efforts. The poaching of elephants
contributes not only to the death of elephants but to the demise of humans with tusk funds being
used in terrorism. Moreover, elephants possess a striking similarity to humans and they must be
afforded the same rights for their high level cognition allows them to feel and loss. Lastly, with

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the significant advancements in technology and worldwide importance placed on ending
suffering; can humans in good conscious allow for another primate to be eradicated knowing that
the elephant can think, feel, and speak similar to man himself?

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Works Cited
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Behavior Reviews. 4(2009): 65-79. Print.
Christy, Bryan. "How Killing Elephants Finances Terror in Africa." National Geographic:
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May 2016.
Chiyo, Patrick e al. Illegal tusk harvest and the decline of tusk size in the African elephant.
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multitiered social structures. Animal Behaviour. 69(2004):1357-1371. Print.
Kimenyi, Mwangi S. "The Dilemma of Destroying Ivory as an Anti-poaching Strategy." Web log
post. Brookings. Brookings Institute, 16 Mar. 2015. Web.
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.
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Laws, R. M. Elephants as agents of habitat and landscape change in East Africa. Oikos.
21(1970): 1-15. Print.

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