Safari Adventures: Elephants In Crisis

“When a poacher kills an elephant, he doesn’t just kill the elephant who dies. The family may lose the crucial memory of their elder matriarch, who knew where to travel during the very toughest years of drought to reach the food and water that would allow them to continue living. Thus, one bullet may, years later, bring more deaths.”

~BEYOND WORDS: WHAT ANIMALS THINK AND FEEL by Carl Safina

A reader once told me that thing they liked most about my novel BECAUSE OF KHALID was that I didn’t water down the tough topics. I had kept the readers’ ages (8-12) in mind while writing, but I also allowed them to see the true nature of the elephants’ plight. There are some graphic scenes, but I executed (no pun intended) them in a way that would leave an impression without giving the readers nightmares. I didn’t paint a rosy unrealistic picture where everything works out in the end. I believe that kids can handle talking about tough topics. They can think critically about challenging concepts, and we should encourage them to do so.

The main conflict in the story is the elephant poaching crisis. Poaching means the illegally killing, hunting, or trapping animals or fish for their body parts. This dangerous operation can take place on private or public lands. Sometimes the animals are still alive when the parts are removed, leaving them to die a slow and painful death. Here are a few examples of victims of poaching and what humans do with their prizes:

 

African elephants → ivory tusks → trinkets and statues

Rhinoceros → horn → status symbol, medicine

Sharks → dorsal fins → delicacy, status symbol

Tigers → all parts → decorative items, Asian remedies

Turtles → shell, body → jewelry, food

Gorillas → head, feet → trophies

Pangolin → scales, body → medicine, meat

 

BECAUSE OF KHALID is about the poaching of elephant tusks in Tanzania, a country in East Africa. A common misconception about an elephant’s ivory tusks is that they naturally fall out, similar to human teeth. Despite this widely accepted belief, an elephant keeps its tusks for its entire life. Poachers kill elephants in horrible, inhumane ways to sell the tusks, many times cutting the tusks out while the elephant is still alive.

WHY IS IT DIFFICULT TO STOP POACHERS?

The range in which elephants roam is far and wide. There is simply not enough manpower, financing, training, and dedication to efficiently protect all of the elephants. Even the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, which is protected and guarded land, has seen the work of poachers. Even though a worldwide ban on ivory was established in 1989, corrupt government officials still allow illegal ivory to leave Tanzania’s borders, while dishonest officials on the receiving end permit the ivory to be imported.

WHO WANTS IVORY?

According to Google:

The United States implemented a near-total ban on elephant ivory trade in 2016, and the United Kingdom, Singapore, Hong Kong, and other elephant ivory markets have followed suit. Most significantly, China took the remarkable step of closing its legal domestic ivory market at the end of 2017.

In 2019, it was reported that the United States and the United Kingdom had banned ivory sales, but many countries still allow some commercial trade. Illegal poaching has continued despite efforts by African governments to crack down.

There’s a worldwide ban…meaning poaching is against the law, but people still desire to own ivory. Ivory has been an important part of the Asian cultural heritage for generations. Items made out of ivory tusks are symbols of wealth. Ivory is commonly carved into statues, ornamental trophies, buttons, jewelry, dominoes, and piano keys.

The last day a person in China could legally buy or sell ivory was 3 years ago on December 31, 2017. Today, you can still get ivory. Countries like Thailand, Laos, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Japan offer products from poached elephants for those people who still need their ivory fix.

worldwildlife.org

HOW MANY ELEPHANTS ARE LEFT?

It was estimated that there were over 12,000,000 elephants roaming the continent of Africa in the 1900’s, just a century ago. That seems like a lot of elephants—and it was!

Unfortunately, due to poaching, habitat loss, and human to animal confrontation, the elephant population has plummeted. One report estimated that in just 6 years, half the elephants in Tanzania alone dropped from 100,000 to 51,000. Conservation groups estimate that 30,000 African elephants are killed each year from poaching, which is about 100 per day. That means more elephants are being killed than are being born.

That’s a lot of information to digest!  Thank you for hanging in there.

The more I have learned about poaching, the more I realize how little I know. I tend to focus on the numbers and statistics. It’s a little easier to digest than having to face the cruelty humans needlessly inflict on innocent animals.

What can I do about it? How can I help?  These are the questions that became the core struggle for Chris in BECAUSE OF KHALID. Initially, Chris is a bystander. He struggles to understand a problem much bigger than himself and feels powerless against such an enormous threat. Chris wants to get involved, but he isn’t sure what his first steps should look like.

How can one voice make any kind of difference? That’s a hard question that Chris faces head on. He is scared that no one will listen, but he also knows that he has been put in a unique situation and uses his time in Africa to make a positive change. He has found his purpose!

More importantly than getting Chris up and over his character arc by the end of the story, I wanted him to pass on that feeling of empowerment to the readers. I wanted my audience to feel inspired, to feel motivated to make changes in their own lives.

 

For more information about elephants and conservation:

Sheldrickwildlifetrust.org

Elephantvoices.org

Tusk.org

Worldwildlife.org

Elephantconservation.org

Wildnet.org

Wildlifeconservationsociety.org

Savetheelephants.org

 

Image by:smartwaterfoundation.org