Elephants’ existence in the wild is threatened as never before. Here’s what Big Life Canada is doing about it.
DO GOOD | “A world without elephants—how could that be?” my friend Jean asked when I mentioned the subject recently. “I thought they had poaching under control in Africa.”
Elephant slaughter is back with a vengeance. The imprudent if legitimate sell-off of an old ivory cache in Africa in 2008 rekindled an appetite for ivory among Asians, particularly the newly minted wealthy class of mainland China who regard ivory carvings and trinkets as trappings of success. Right now, the price paid for illegal raw tusk can be as much as a $1,000 a kilo, which explains why epic numbers of the world’s largest land mammal are being mowed down from helicopters or lured to their death with horrific tricks such as rolling poison-filled melons onto paths they routinely take.
Elephants live as long as humans and develop at a parallel pace. “At any given age, a baby elephant duplicates its human counterpart, reaching adulthood at the age of 20,” says Dame Daphne Sheldrick, pictured above, who has operated a baby elephant orphanage in Kenya for 30-plus years.
Dame Sheldrick, whos work is the subject of an amazing 60 Minutes profile, has observed that elephant emotions, from envy and depression to joy, and personality traits (individual hang-ups and quirks) are surprisingly similar to our own. Elephants “grieve deeply for lost loved ones, even shedding tears,” she reports. “They have a sense of compassion that projects beyond their own kind and sometimes extends to others in distress. . .and when you know them really well, you can see that they even smile when [they are] having fun and are happy.”
Tooth And Consequences
Elephant tusks are elongated incisor teeth that continue to grow over their lifetime. One third of this tooth is not visible, embedded deep in an elephant’s cranial cavity. Poachers now chop out entire sides of their victims’ heads to maximize ivory take; gruesome mutilations like the one pictured above are not uncommon.
This photo is part of a “celebrity ambassador” campaign by WildAid, an NGO that produces multimedia offensives designed to reduce the demand for wildlife parts and products. Superstar basketball player Yao Ming is their latest recruit, and the heart-breaking pictures from his visit to Africa are intended to appeal to the conscience of potential ivory shoppers in China.
Big Life Foundation was established in 2010 by world-renowned fine art photographer Nick Brandt, who has produced three widely acclaimed books commemorating the fast vanishing natural grandeur of East Africa. Sister charity Big Life Canada was set up in April of this year by Toronto area lawyer and life science exec Greg Gubitz . He was drawn to Big Life because of the charity’s hands-on work and visible results.
Both Big Life and Big Life Canada are boots-on-the-ground operations that aim to slow down and ultimately halt the decimation of wildlife in Kenya and Tanzania by setting up anti-poaching outposts and training mobile patrol teams. In just two years, Big Life has established 21 outposts, purchased 14 patrol vehicles and trained 250 rangers. This progress is amazing, but with 2,000,000 acres to protect (and an estimated 25,000 elephants killed last year alone), more must be done.
When I spoke with Gubitz earlier this week, he told me that because Big Life Canada is new, it will initially focus on establishing one Canadian anti-poaching camp (at a cost of US$143,000 to build and maintain for a year), adding more camps as donations permit. “The need over there is huge,” he says. “The impact in areas where Big Life is operating has been positive, but we still need so much more.”—C. Rule
Black & white photos: Nick Brandt (click here to see uncropped originals)Pin It