TED Conversations

Paula Kahumbu

CEO, WildlifeDirect

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How do we save African elephants from extinction?

African elephants are being slaughtered for their ivory as a surprising consequences of the rise of Asian economies. Symbolic of wealth and prestige, ivory was once only affordable for a few. Now with hundreds of millions of newly rich people in Asia, demand has outstripped supply and elephants are being killed at a rate that will drive them to extinction in less than 15 years.

African governments are unable to stop the poaching - the price of ivory is driving impunity, corruption and is now under control of criminal cartels.

How do we stop this? What will it take to reverse this trend? Do we need to change cultures? Appealing for compassion in China, Thailand, Philippines? Is it about law enforcement?

We need some bright ideas from TEDsters who love African animals and who know how to cause change in Asia


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    Feb 27 2013: A BBC report states that some elephants are no longer growing tusks

    "...as a rapid and effective evolutionary response to escape slaughter by ruthless and resourceful poachers who kill elephants for their ivory trophies"

    Full report:


    Not sure evolution can work that quickly. There must be some other genetic reason perhaps?

    Peter's idea of controlled tusk removal I think is a good one. And, as daft as this may sound, the fitting of prosthetic tusks anchored to the remaining real tusk stumps might enable continued normal feeding and mating behaviour. Given that elephants live for between 60-70 years, it would be time and money well spent. I guess the prosthetic tusks would also have to be coloured in some way so that poachers can see they aren't real.
    • Feb 28 2013: In reading about tusks on the link I entered, the author also had this to say; Some likely reasons for the greater proportion of tuskless Asian elephants compared the African elephants may be due to strong selection in the past by humans killing the tusked male elephants and an gene in Asian elephants which is not as recessive.

      Of course there is no telling how many generations this took.
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      Feb 28 2013: Thanks Allan. Tusklessness is now prevalent in two African elephant populations - Murchisons Falls in Uganda and Addo in South Africa. I'm not sure that it is not a state you'd want elephants to be in - tusks evolved for a specific purpose, they are used in fighting, finding food, and even rescuing each other.

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