Off the Cuff with Jacob Fulton: Botswanan elephant deaths prove need for strict poaching regulations

Africa’s last sanctuary for elephants is no longer safe.

With over 130,000 elephants living within its borders, according to the last Elephant Census, the country of Botswana was one of the few places on the continent where elephants could live with limited fear of being poached. Elephants from neighboring countries such as Namibia, Zambia and Angola flooded into Botswana over the course of the past decade, fleeing the heavy influence of poachers in those countries.

Botswana was a safe haven of sorts, thanks to their armed anti-poaching units. But this May, after new President Mokgweetsi Masisi was sworn into office, those units were disarmed. In September, the country’s Wildlife Aerial Survey found 87 elephants slaughtered by poachers.

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the elephant has been among the most endangered species in the world since 1989. Poaching is illegal around the world, and yet elephant populations continue to shrink. The Great Elephant Census found that the population’s average rate of decline is eight percent per year—far higher than it should be. If international efforts are being made to limit poaching and preserve the species, then positive changes should be seen, but the results so far have been abysmal.

President Masisi’s actions are a step in the complete wrong direction. When the elephant population is still falling at such a drastic rate, it’s counterintuitive to decrease restrictions. The aerial survey, which only counted elephant deaths over the past three months, found a population decrease in Botswana of one percent in that short period of time—and the survey wasn’t completed for the entire country when the figure was released.

Instead of decreasing poaching regulations, it is paramount to the survival of elephants to take more preventative measures, especially in countries like Botswana, to protect them. The species plays a critical role in the development of their environment, and their extinction could result in complete disarray.

The loss of any species is a tragedy that the world should work to avoid as much as possible. When humans are causing the extinction, it is clear that there needs to be a major course correction. Many point to zoos as places to preserve biodiversity, but the conditions in which those animals live are vastly different from their natural habitat.

In the wild, animals learn to fend for themselves. They know how to take care of one another, and how to find food. They can avoid natural predators and are prepared to survive in their environment. In a zoo, they have none of these benefits. Animals raised in captivity have a difficult time transitioning into the wild—if they ever make it out of a zoo at all. Holding endangered animals captive may increase the elephant population numerically, but it does no good when it comes to repopulating their habitat.

The amount of elephants that die each year due to natural causes or predators keeps an ecosystem in balance. But humans, a predator that shouldn’t even have been introduced, are causing disarray. To account for this, preventative measures are incredibly important when it comes to the survival of the species. It is essential that humans work to save the elephants—before there are none left to save.

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