The Wild Kingdom—Is It Vanishing?
THE chilling presence of evil quickens the human pulse as the unmistakable sound of automatic weapons blasts the silence and echoes and reechoes in the distance. It is too far to hear the victims stumbling and falling to the ground and to see them writhe in their death throes in the dust. Walk over and count the dead. There are hundreds, possibly 300, here.
The executioners have gone away. They had no intention of burying the dead. The innocent victims, stripped of their material wealth, are left where they fell to rot in the sun or to be eaten by scavengers. One look at the carnage is a graphic reminder of the perils and the increasing wanton slaughter that faces victims carrying articles of great worth but with inadequate means of protection and virtually no place to hide.
Multiply this scene by thousands. Count the total dead by tens of thousands. And only then can you begin to get a true picture of the ruthless slaughter by which the once great elephant herds of Africa are being decimated. Today, they are being killed faster than they can reproduce, and there are strong fears that soon they will go the way of the buffalo that once roamed the American plains in vast numbers, only to be massacred by man almost to extinction.
The great elephants have given their lives for humans who have an eye for the exotic. Expensive ivory carvings that range from several feet high to the size of a thimble are in popular demand by those who can afford them. Twenty years ago the price of ivory was about three dollars a pound. Today it commands a huge $40 price tag. It has been estimated that 2,300 elephants lost their lives to supply the 8.3 million dollars’ worth of ivory imported into the United States in 1980 alone.
An elephant poacher with the slightest knowledge of mathematics knows that his prey, bearing, say, two 100-pound (45-kg) tusks, could bring him at least $8,000 on the ivory market. In Tanzania police confiscated a cache of tusks valued at $360,000, the result of poachers at work. The crackdown by game wardens and rangers in some African countries has resulted in a number of deaths of both poachers and rangers. “It’s like a war,” said one warden. But with the inflated prices paid for ivory tusks, the poachers are willing to take the chance. Even some game rangers have turned rebel to the cause and joined the poachers. The kill of just one large tusk-bearing elephant could equal more than a year’s salary for a ranger.
Those with an eye for the exotic do not necessarily stop with the ivory carvings. They may be willing to pay $400 for a briefcase made of elephant hide or to buy a wastebasket or an umbrella stand made from its feet and legs. A pencil holder made from the feet of a mere baby elephant may strike their fancy. A man may like the idea of having a wallet made of elephant hide, and a woman may like to show off her elephant-hide purse or belt. But have they considered that an elephant gave its life so that they could have something unusual?
So insensible have the poachers become to the wanton slaughter of these animals that in some countries water holes, used not only by the elephants but by other animals as well, are being poisoned. By poison spears, by poison fruit, by darts, pitfalls and fire, and by automatic weapons, the defenseless elephant falls easy prey to those who have but one intent: kill! And kill they do, in East Africa up to 70,000 elephants a year.
Not long ago the country of Uganda boasted 49,000 elephants. Soldiers in the army of the then president, Idi Amin, turned part-time poachers and systematically gunned the elephants down by the thousands, hacking out their tusks and leaving them to rot where they fell. Park rangers once counted 900 carcasses in just one area.
Amin’s government was overthrown in 1979, but, unfortunately, the elephants of Uganda were not to breathe a sigh of relief. Today, the weapons from Amin’s army—either abandoned by fleeing soldiers or confiscated—are prized possessions in the hands of poachers. With them the poachers can methodically kill anything that moves and offers a cash return. Today, the head count of elephants left in Uganda stands at about 1,500.
When will the slaughter end? As long as there is a demand from couldn’t-care-less consumers it is hard to see how the extinction of the wild elephant in Africa can be avoided.
Unfortunately, the elephant is not the only endangered species that grows those coveted tusks of white gold. Africa’s black rhinoceros, sprouting horns from one to two feet (30 to 60 cm) in length, have been hunted so wantonly that the estimated population of 100,000 ten years ago has been reduced to between 10,000 and 20,000 today. Like the elephant the rhino is being destroyed faster than it can reproduce. Experts speak bitterly of the prospect of the extinction of all Africa’s wild rhinos. “Prospects for their survival in the wild are shrouded in pessimism,” they say.
The affluent may not think twice about paying $40 a pound (454 gm) for carved elephant tusks, but they may wince in disbelief at the prices commanded by rhino horns—in many cases a shocking $14,000 a pound. Why so high? It is a traditional belief in some lands that powdered rhino horn has magical and curative qualities, and it is highly prized as an aphrodisiac for those with waning sexual powers. Thus the wealthy pay high sums for it.
Medical experts find no evidence that powdered rhino horn is an aphrodisiac. The sexually impotent might as well save their money and eat their own finger nails or hair trimmings, since rhino horns and human nails contain the same substance, called keratin. Yet many are convinced that there is a difference, and they are willing to pay over $600 an ounce (28 gm) on the retail market for powdered rhino horn, to the delight of the poachers. One game warden commented, “There would be no rhinos here within three weeks” were it not for the patrols. Since many Asians still believe that the rhino horn has magical powers, the Asian species has been hunted nearly to extinction.
In North Yemen the rhino horn is highly prized for making handles for daggers that are traditionally worn strapped to the waist of males from 12 years old and up. The daggers are decorated with silver and gold, and the North Yemenites will pay enormous sums, from $6,000 to $13,000, for them. In less than a decade, according to published reports, North Yemen imported nearly 50,000 pounds (22,680 kg) of rhino horns, representing about 8,000 rhino lives. What a price to pay for tradition!
Far removed from the elephant and rhino ranges of Africa, the 12-foot-long, 3,000-pound (1,360 kg) walrus rests on his ice floe in the Arctic. Those large, downward-pointing teeth that give him his formidable appearance are made of ivory—all three feet of them (nearly one meter). Once he was hunted almost exclusively by the Eskimo, who used him for food and hand carved his tusks to sell for income. Now he has moved into the big time as a source of ivory, and an estimated 5,000 are killed annually. If the kill increases, someone will have to tell the walrus to have his offspring more quickly, or else he will join the ranks of those who have vanished from the wild kingdom.
And there is more, much more. The fastest known animal, the cheetah, has been clocked as running at 70 miles (113 km) per hour. Yet even he cannot run fast enough to escape his most savage predator, man. That beautiful, sleek animal, yellowish in color with black spots all over his body, was once the pride of India and plentiful on the plains of Africa and Asia. Since the turn of the century, however, he has been so inexorably hunted that he has totally disappeared in India and is nearly extinct in the rest of Asia. In Africa his numbers are pitifully few and being halved every decade.
Why such slaughter of the cheetah? Because milady wishes for a new coat, and one made from the pelts of the beautiful, disappearing cheetah tribe will please her very well. The poachers find her desires most rewarding. A recent confiscated shipment of 319 pelts, all the illegal harvest of poachers, was reported to represent “a 5 to 10 percent reduction in the total number of wild cheetahs.” Fashion and vanity push this beautiful creature toward extinction.
Again, the beautiful markings of the majestic leopard make its fur extremely valuable for coats. How valuable? About $10,000 on the poacher’s market. It is obvious that only the wealthy can afford such luxury. However, the number of those who can afford it is increasing, and so is the demand for leopard skins, while they can still be found. In some countries laws forbid the import of leopard skins for coats, but for the tens of thousands of leopards that gave their lives for the sake of fashion this is too little too late.
The same can be said of the tiger, the largest member of the cat family. Once the king of the wild kingdom in Asia, living in abundance throughout most of the southern half of the continent, he reigned supreme until the 1800’s. Yet he lacked one absolute necessity for survival—the ability to use guns with which to repel his worst enemy, man. He could not shoot back. Can you imagine how many brave human hunters would have gone after the tiger if he could have shot back? As it is, men relentlessly killed the tigers off and destroyed their natural habitat, and today only a few remain. The tiger is another endangered species.
Of what possible value could a gorilla be to man, apart from food for the rare few? Seldom does one hear of a gorilla coat, and gorilla teeth do not give ivory. But man still kills gorillas for trophies. He even cuts off their hands to make ashtrays of them. Because of poaching and the destruction of their natural habitats, the gorilla population of Africa is declining rapidly. Scientists fear that its survival is in jeopardy.
Once, the wild kingdom was thought of as a bottomless pit. Yet can even such an apparently limitless source give up, for example, 10,000 zebras in five years to make drums and rugs for tourists and not start to run dry? Nevertheless, the slaughter goes on, and the wild kingdom seems to be hastening to oblivion.
The grievous thing is that the demise has largely come about not to feed stomachs but to feed vanity. People do not need leopard or cheetah coats. We can do without elephant briefcases or purses. Who needs an unusual pair of shoes so much that a rare monitor lizard or a crocodile should die to provide it? When you think about buying a carving made of ivory, would your conscience flinch at the thought of an elephant writhing in the dust and having his tusk cut out while he is still alive, just to satisfy your whim? Remember, as long as there is a demand for these exotic items, animals will die and species will become extinct.
Despite the fact that many countries have enacted good laws to try to stem the disappearance of species from the wild kingdom, sadly, much damage has been done. A hope exists, however, that in the years to come there will still be animals on earth for man to enjoy. In a prophecy reflecting future conditions under God’s Kingdom, the Bible says: “Wolves and sheep will live together in peace, and leopards will lie down with young goats. Calves and lion cubs will feed together, and little children will take care of them. Cows and bears will eat together, and their calves and cubs will lie down in peace. Lions will eat straw as cattle do.”—Isaiah 11:6, 7, Today’s English Version.
But woe to those who heap contempt on God’s earth by recklessly destroying his wild kingdom! Surely, He will “bring to ruin those ruining the earth.” He has promised that.—Revelation 11:18.
[Blurb on page 5]
The once great elephant herds of Africa are being killed faster than they can reproduce
[Blurb on page 8]
Fashion consciousness and vanity on the part of humans are pushing the beautiful cheetah toward extinction
[Picture on page 5]
The walrus is an important source of ivory. About 5,000 are killed each year
[Pictures on page 6]
Enthusiastic hunting and a diminishing habitat have put the tiger on the endangered species list, while the rhino has been hunted almost to extinction so that its horn can be used for dagger handles or aphrodisiacs