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13 Ways of Looking at an Elephant

Talk to a dozen different people in Africa about elephants, and you’ll hear a dozen different views. Robert Mugabe will tell you that “every species must pay its way.” One biologist will complain about elephant overpopulation, and another will tell you poaching is out of control. A Kruger National Park official will tell you that culling is mandatory; elephant behaviorists will protest vehemently. Villagers will point to damaged water pumps or ravaged crops and tell you what a pain it is to live with elephants. Others will swear they know how to tell elephants to leave them alone. This weekend, in Doha, Qatar, CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, convenes its latest meeting to consider, among other things, a request by Zambia and Tanzania to sell ivory from government stockpiles, despite the fact that much illegal killing and trafficking has been traced—via DNA testing—to those two countries. “These two countries are at the center of the illegal ivory trade in Africa. It’s kind of unbelievable that their requests have gotten this far,” says Samuel Wasser, a University of Washington biologist and specialist in tracing ivory to its source population. As in previous years, the sale is opposed by poaching experts because it encourages the ivory trade, which reaches from China and other Asian countries—where carvings, name seals, and other products remain popular—to the United States, where consumers still display an unconscionable taste for elephant ivory. The United States, according to a recent report, is the second largest consumer of ivory in the world. Sign a petition opposing the sale of ivory at Bloody Ivory or at Avaaz.
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