Elephants remain a threatened species

Published Apr 14, 2018 at 4:00pm

Elephants are majestic beasts that have long fascinated humans. These large mammals with distinctive ears, tusks and trunks are quite industrious, are believed to be among the most highly intelligent in the animal kingdom and can live to age 70. Scientists believe they experience strong and complex emotions, including attachment for family members and grief at their passing.

Alas, elephants are also among the most hunted species in the world, as described in a story we published yesterday. Fortunately, in Tanzania, efforts to save elephants from poachers have produced some solid results. But they have a long way to go.

Many are still slaughtered via poaching, or illegal hunting. The ivory from their large tusks remains a valuable commodity, reportedly worth more than $20,000 per elephant.

In 2014, the U.S. imposed a near-total ban on interstate trade in ivory and banned the importation of African elephant trophies, or body parts, from Zimbabwe and Zambia.

On March 1, the Fish and Wildlife Service quietly loosened the ban. Imports of elephant trophies would be approved or rejected on a “case-by-case basis.”

There were reportedly 5 million elephants in Africa about a century ago. There are fewer than 400,000 now. That’s why the International Union for Conservation of Nature has classified African elephants as “vulnerable” -- and the U.S. Endangered Species Act has used the classification of “threatened” since 1979.

Elephants deserve the U.S. protections that were provided, and efforts in other countries to ban ivory imports and in Africa to control poaching can continue.