The captions beneath the attached photographs above explain it all: Elephant Drinking, Amboseli, 2007. Killed by Poachers, 2009. Elephant with Half-Ear, Amboseli, July 2010. Killed by Poachers August 2010. Elephants Walking Through Grass, Amboseli 2008. Leading Matriarch Killed By Poachers, 2009.
In the Amboseli region of East Africa — an extraordinary 2 million acre ecosystem in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro, straddling Kenya and Tanzania — this elephant was just one of many elephants killed in the last few years by poachers. In fact, most of the large-tusked elephants that are featured in my books are now dead, killed by poachers for their ivory.
Since 2008, there has been a massively increased demand for ivory and other animal parts from China and the Far East. As a result, there is a continent-wide apocalypse of animals going on.
Ivory prices have soared from $200 a pound in 2004 to more than $2,000 today. Some experts estimate that as much as 35,000 elephants a year are being slaughtered, 10% of Africa's elephant population each year alone.
And the killing isn't limited to just elephants. An ounce of powdered rhino horn is now more expensive than an ounce of gold. There are now just 20,000 lions left in Africa — a staggering 75% drop in just the last 20 years — to the point that now no lions left outside protected areas, and even those are being poisoned when they roam outside those borders. This isn’t just due to population pressure - they are also being killed for body parts for China now there are so few tigers left.
The plains animals are getting slaughtered as well: Giraffes here in the region are being killed at a faster rate for bush meat. There are even contracts out on zebras, as their skins are the latest fad in Asia.
The Amboseli ecosystem, which in my opinion, has the greatest population of elephants left in East Africa, has until now been incredibly vulnerable, suffering badly from insufficient funding for government and (the very few) non-profit organizations alike.
With all this in mind, I realized that I could no longer watch the destruction of this extraordinary ecosystem and its animals. So in September of 2010, I co-founded Big Life Foundation with highly-regarded conservationist Richard Bonham. The elephant drinking became our unfortunate poster child, and his home - the Amboseli ecosystem — became our pilot initiative project. As of August 2013
Big Life is the only organization in East Africa with co-ordinated cross-border (Kenya/Tanzania) anti-poaching operations.
Thanks to donor support, Big Life now employ 280 rangers, with 30 outposts and 15 vehicles protecting 2 million acres of wilderness in the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem of E. Africa.
As of July 2013, Big Life's rangers have made 1150 arrests and confiscated 3100 weapons/poaching tools since November 2010.
This new level of co-ordinated protection for the ecosystem has already brought about a dramatic reduction in poaching of all animals in the region. A number of significant arrests of some of the worst, most prolific long-term poachers in the region have at long last been engineered by Big Life's teams. As a result of these successes, in which almost every killing has led to a successful arrest by the Big Life teams, we have been able to quickly send out a strong message to poachers that killing wildlife now carries a far greater risk of being arrested.
However, the poaching continues unabated in the areas where Big Life still has no presence.
When we have achieved our goal of stable and sustainable operations long term in the region, we then want to start allocating funds to other areas in East Africa urgently in need of dealing with this growing poaching crisis. Because as the illegal demand for ivory, rhino horn and other wildlife parts continues to grow, there will be many who cannot resist the easy profits to be made out of killing these irreplaceable creatures.
Africa is Africa because of the animals there. The elephants, lions, giraffes, cheetah, rhinos - they are all iconic creatures that exert a powerful, deep emotional and mythical hold over our imaginations. But we can no longer take their presence for granted. At the current rate of destruction, by the next generation, they will be gone. Imagine a world where very soon, you and future generations are only able to see elephants and lions in the sad, drab confines of a zoo.
Big Life Foundation is working hard, and so far successfully, to staunch the flow of blood, and preserve these extraordinary animals in the hopes of a better future for both them, and us.
To learn more, please visit Big Life's website: www.biglife.org
Thanks for your time, and any donations that you can make.