So perilous is the position of the African elephant, and so uncertain its future, that The Independent chose Space for Giants – a charity which is working to create a protected reserve on the Laikipia Plateau of northern Kenya – for our 2013 Christmas appeal. There is no time to waste. There were perhaps 10 million elephants in Africa in 1900; now, there are barely half a million. Without swift action to protect these wonderful creatures from the poachers who want their ivory and the farmers who need their habitat, they could vanish from the continent altogether within as little as 10 years.
That the British Government is taking the issue sufficiently seriously to pledge £10m to crack down on the illegal trade in wildlife products will certainly help. Demand for ivory is soaring, particularly in the developing world, sending prices high enough to tempt in waves of new poachers, often affiliated with organised crime. Elephants are being slaughtered in ever greater numbers – and rangers are losing their lives trying to protect them – while the proceeds from the sale of their tusks bankroll every sort of nastiness including terrorism and war. Extra funding that can be used to improve economic opportunities and give would-be poachers an alternative, for example, or to provide training and equipment to help law enforcement agencies clamp down on ivory sales, can make a real difference.
The job is far from done, however – even with the commitment from the Government. First, there are the numbers. In Kenya alone, the annual cost of protecting the 6,000 remaining animals is around $500,000 per year. Scale that up to cover all 500,000 animals across the continent and the size of the challenge becomes clear. Individual philanthropy – from the very large to the very small – is, therefore, needed as much.
Nor will efforts to tackle the ivory trade, welcome as they are, be sufficient by themselves. It is no less vital to gain the support of the local communities who live with the elephants and, most of all, to establish secure sanctuaries in which the animals can live freely – and safely – forever. Please give generously to help Space for Giants make such hopes a reality.