Despite their large size, I’m told that counting polar bears is not easy; that they move around a lot. The modelling is always suggesting population decline, but best estimates indicate polar bear numbers have been increasing since effective bans on hunting were introduced in the early 1970s. Contrast this with the situation in Africa where best estimates indicate more than 100,000 elephants have been slaughtered since 2006. The problem for the elephants is hunting – illegal poaching – which was once such a problem for polar bears.
Rather than worrying about polar bears (and penguins) the special people in Glasgow could be worrying about Africa’s elephants.
I spent some time amongst the elephants of East Africa in the late 1980s when I worked as a field biologist based in Nairobi. During the years I was there the elephant populations in the national parks were decimated by poachers.
Official estimates put Kenya’s total elephant population at 167,000 in 1973, and just 16,000 in 1989. That was when there was major legislative change, rangers were issued with semiautomatic weapons and told to defend the remaining herds. At the same time elephants were listed in Appendix I of CITES with an international commitment to halt the trade in ivory. The slaughter stopped, temporarily.
African elephant populations began to recover. By 2007 there was estimated to be about 470,000 elephants across Africa (savannah and forest).
Then environmental activists became obsessed with climate change to the exclusion of most everything else, and the wholesale price of raw ivory in China tripled and poaching started again. Best estimates indicate the trend of increasing elephant numbers for some yeasr during the 1990s has reversed, and that more than 100,000 African elephants were slaughtered between 2006 and 2015 – for their ivory, for the Chinese.
When I was last in Kenya (18 months before covid), I visited the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust that seeks to make a difference by looking after orphaned baby elephants and being a part of anti-poaching efforts. The feature image, at the top of this blog post, shows me with a baby elephant just outside Nairobi in 2018.