A Wildlife Crisis

I am feeling sick right now; literally sick to my stomach. I’ve just read yet another story about the slaughter of elephants in Africa by poachers feeding the world trade in ivory. Police in Hong Kong intercepted a stash of 4,800 pounds of elephant tusks destined for China. Last October they intercepted a haul of 8,500 pounds!

As a nature photographer I am outraged. Every one of us should be, whether pro or amateur. Part of my personal mission statement is to help people understand the importance of our natural world through my photography. Every nature photographer I know, no matter what their ability level, has a similar desire.

Last winter I read an amazing book called The Tiger by John Vaillant which describes a horrifying event in eastern Siberia involving the world’s largest tiger, the Siberian tiger. A rogue tiger inexplicably killed several people. Investigators subsequently found that the men who were killed had been poaching tigers to feed the Chinese market for tiger penises, testicles, kidneys and other body parts which they believe hold some magic properties to enhance virility. These marvelous beasts are being decimated simply to supply China’s inexhaustible appetite.

Ditto with the elephants and rhinoceroses, both of which are slaughtered by well-armed gangs just for their ivory or, in the case of the rhinos, for their horn which again the Chinese believe also helps their virility or can cure cancer. These vile people kill the helpless animals with high-powered weapons and carve off the horns or tusks with chain saws, leaving the carcasses to rot. Rangers in many parks have resorted to tranquilizing rhinos and preemptively cutting off their horns to save their lives. More than 630 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone in 2012. In the past 50 years the rhino population in all of Africa has plummeted by 90%. Ditto with the elephants. In tiny Chad, 90% of its elephants have been savaged by poachers over the past 10 years. In 2012, 30,000 elephants were brutally poached throughout Africa.

Although I belong to several ecological organizations, I will immediately donate money to causes that fight this plague. If you are a nature photographer I urge you to do something, anything. Learn about the problem. Join a wildlife conservation organization. Donate money for wildlife protection. Blog about the problem. Anything.

If you would like to educate yourself about this slaughter, here is a link to a series run by the New York Times that will bring you up to speed, but be warned. You will need to have a strong stomach.

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