Natalie Prosin’s March 14 article “Justice for elephants? The fight isn’t over” speaks of the progress made eliminating elephants from the circus. Next, those who object to captivity of any “wild animal” will turn their attention to the zoos.

While both causes are admirable, they are missing the big elephant in the room. In 10 years, if the poaching slaughter of elephants in Central Africa is not stopped, these elephants inhabiting the zoos may be the only elephants remaining in the world.

While 30 years ago there were several million elephants in Central Africa, their numbers have been decimated by poachers to just a half million or fewer. The Asian elephant number is far fewer, at only 45,000.

The slaughter of elephants in Central Africa for their ivory has increased to such alarming levels and with such rapacious abandon that the viability of the species is very much in question. Not that I’m an elephant expert. I was helping my 10th-grade son with a writing assignment, for which he chose the plight of the elephant, when I started researching this subject. I was both shocked and repulsed by the wholesale slaughter that is going on at a crazy rate of approximately 90 elephants a day. These elephants are shot — sometimes with automatic weapons, at other times with poisoned arrows — or they are speared. Then, often while the elephants are still fighting for lives, their tusks are hacked off their skull with axes or machetes and, finally, the elephants are left to a long, excruciating death.

The reason for the slaughter is that ivory has become a status symbol for the ever-increasing pool of recently affluent in China. Trinkets and various carved ivory artifacts are being displayed with great pride and, unfortunately, even greater ignorance.

In his book “Ivory, Horn and Blood,” Ronald Orenstein writes: “A survey by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) found that 70% of Chinese (based on a survey of 1,253 people in six cities) believe that ivory — xiang ya, “elephant teeth” in Mandarin — comes from tusks that simply fall out of an elephant’s mouth and then grow back. Sellers encourage this idea.” Obviously, two things need to happen in China: an educational campaign and a law banning the import of ivory to China.

Guess what country is the second leading importer of ivory? Yes, embarrassingly, it is the United States. Fighting for the sales ban, entertainer Billy Joel writes, “To whom it may concern: I wholeheartedly support the ivory sales ban bill pending in New York state. I am a piano player. And I realize that ivory piano keys are preferred by some pianists. But a preference for ivory keys does not justify the slaughter of 96 elephants every day. There are other materials which can be substituted for piano keys. But magnificent creatures like these can never be replaced. Music must never be used as an excuse to destroy an endangered species. Music should be a celebration of life — not an instrument of death.”

Everyone can support the survival of the elephant by never buying any product fashioned from ivory. The poachers who kill the elephants do so only because the demand is so great.


Richard Greelis lives in Bloomington.