One of my favourite animals is the elephant. In the eighties their populations had been decimated in many countries due to the demand for ivory. With controls on poaching, education, and in 1989 a ban on the trade of ivory, the following decades saw healthy populations of elephants returning. However, Japan and Hong Kong were still able to legally trade ivory, as some southern African countries fought the ban, stating that the legal sale of ivory from sustainable populations and natural deaths funded conservation. In allowing these ‘so-called’ legal sales, and the ferocious demand in a newly affluent China, the number of African elephants in the world has been devastated. The legal trade allows poached ivory to be sold as ‘legal’ by using the few legal licences repeatedly to sell the poached ivory. In 2015, 20,000 elephants were illegally killed. Tanzania alone has lost 60% of its elephants in the last five years.
So you can imagine my delight, when last year I was fortunate enough to return to the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania, one of the largest wilderness areas left in Africa, an area where the elephant population has been decimated, and we stumbled on a small herd of elephants. Our first sighting was across the water. They were bathing and playing in the shallows. We weren’t close enough to see much so we decided to try to skirt around the water. I thought we might not see them again, but when we came out of the other side of a clump of trees and low scrub, they appeared in front of us. We sat and watched as they ambled off across the bush.
I think the smile stayed on my face for a long time. Hope is a powerful thing.