Before then, we had even more; before the 20th century, there were an estimated 5 to 10 million African elephants. 5 to 10 million! Yet today, the numbers are much lower; across Africa, approximately 400,000 remain, and only 1,000 are left in Liberia, largely due to civil war and poaching in the country. Such a decrease is just devastating to behold, and though the country has outlawed the practice of killing elephants and selling them for ivory, it still continues to happen across Liberia.
Though Liberia is in the process of renewing its membership in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), this is not a sure way to deter poachers. On the contrary, it seems the best way to do that would be to decrease—of course, ideally, eliminate—the poverty that motivates them to poach in the first place. And, of course, like any other illegal trade, to stop the officials who are involved in helping it occur in the first place.
Liberia has seen more than its share of loss and hardship after several brutal civil wars—not ancient battles but modern wars that just ended in 2003, without protections put in place for the environment or, of course, people. Imagine, say, the Shenandoah valley stripped as such today and how long it would take us to recover. (Of course, knowing us, we’d just use the opportunity to use the dead land as a new strip mall…Why not use the freely-paved paradise for a parking lot, after all?)
What this teaches me—what many issues about animal welfare teach me, really—is just how connected we all are, and how human welfare directly impacts that of animals’. The better of humans are, the better they treat—and, in many cases, can afford to treat—animals. Increasing penalties, raising fines, and even talking of violence (which is hypocritical, is it not?) will all not solve the problem; people are going to do whatever they can to feed themselves and their families as long as they are poor—and as long as people in power allow them to do so.