The men follow with their knives and guns. It’s dark and windy. Thunder crashes and lightning sporadically brightens the surroundings.
The dirt has turned to mud, making it difficult to walk, let alone run away from the men: and more importantly, away from their weapons. Taking a right turn into the bush makes it no easier to get away with all the tress, fallen branches and undergrowth.
When he sees the perfect moment, he raises his gun and shoots. The other readies his blade…
Doesn’t sound like an ideal way to spend your last moments alive, does it? Most humans are statistically not that likely to meet their end in this way.
An elephant, on the other hand?
Regardless of which statistics you choose to follow, elephant poaching happens, and it’s happening right now.
An innocent game drive on an island in Zimbabwe’s Lake Kariba began with the hope for a glimpse of a lion. And it ended in the discovery of an elephant that had been poached an estimated 24 hours before. I’m not the first person to stumble upon a freshly slaughtered elephant, and I certainly won’t be the last. However, it’s one thing to watch a documentary about it, and another thing entirely to actually see the slaughtered beast.
The people who removed the animal’s tusks are disgusting, yes. But it’s important to remember that they represent one element of the sickening and deadly cycle that is the global ivory trade. Poachers supply because there is a demand.
After being chased, the elephant was shot just behind its ear. This injured it, but to stop it, the poachers then slit it’s spine. Our guide said this was unlikely to have killed the elephant, merely leaving it paralysed and bleeding out as they readied their knife again.
An elephant’s trunk is as thick as a basketball. You can imagine that removal of the trunk is a slow and messy task. They threw the trunk aside, leaving it laying a few metres away from the elephant’s body. It was like they had simply unwrapped a Big Mac and chucked away the wrapper.
The next step was removing their prize, the tusks. In 2014, ivory was selling at 2,100 dollars per kilo in China. And while the price has dropped since then, and the poachers make nowhere near that amount, killing elephants is still a way to make money.
Upon discovery, our guide called staff from National Parks to investigate. In following days we learned that they had been able to track the poachers to a certain point, but that they had ultimately gotten away.
Ivory sits on a shelf or in a drawer as a selfish, overpriced status symbol. An elephant is a beautiful, iconic and endangered animal. Which is more important to you? To humanity?