Magazine article The Spectator

Wild Life: Aidan Hartley

Magazine article The Spectator

Wild Life: Aidan Hartley

Article excerpt


I sip my Tusker beer on the veranda, staring at the elephant. He's not the elephant in the room. He's the elephant on what should be my croquet lawn. I thought he might go away, but he hasn't. Instead he's brought his friends -- more and more of them as time goes by. They say the elephant will become extinct within a few years. Across Africa, poachers are decimating elephants -- just not here, where they apparently feel safe enough to crap on my sward.

Today, the fashionable argument promoted on Twitter, and followed by princes and prime ministers, is to burn all stockpiles of seized ivory in the world. This, they argue, will help shut down the illegal trade in ivory. Poachers, some believe, must be fought with special forces-trained rangers with night-vision goggles and helicopter back-up.

Currently, they say around 30,000 elephant are being poached annually. This is mainly for their ivory, from which the African bandits who pull the trigger make but a few coins. Instead, the lion's share of profits is gobbled up by criminal gangs smuggling tusks to the Far East, where hordes of Chinese consumers want the ivory carved into miniature statues of their grandmothers.

Others argue that the best way of saving elephant and other wildlife is through commercial sport hunting. It's hard to disagree with the numbers, given that wildlife populations have thrived mainly in those parts of southern Africa where big-game hunting is also a lucrative industry. But it disturbs many that the future survival of megafauna should depend on them being shot by rich dentists and oilmen from Texas, together with their wives. And it appears unlikely that much of the money from commercial sport hunting would ever reach the impoverished populations it could benefit, who instead have the crops on which they subsist flattened, or their children squashed dead on the way to school.

Whenever I look at Facebook there's a white cat lover saying these Texan hunters should be 'hunted down' themselves. This is the type of person who says humans are a 'disease'. Fewer people = less global warming = more elephants.

The problem is that if Prince William succeeds in stopping the illegal trade in ivory completely, elephant populations will explode and, since their habitat is dwindling fast as Africa's people multiply, they will come ever more into conflict with humans. Just down the road from us recently, crowds of poor people protested against the destruction of their maize crops by attacking a herd of elephants until they were driven off with a helicopter. …

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