June 01, 2014

Treasured to Death: Elephants, Ivory, and the Resurgence of a Crisis

Peter LaFontaine, Beth Allgood, and Marina Ratchford

By the time you finish reading this article, it is likely that several elephants will be killed for their ivory. On average, one elephant is killed every fifteen minutes in Africa by poachers, but even Americans who have heard about the elephant poaching crisis often believe that it has nothing to do with the United States—that it is a problem of feeding insatiable demand for ivory in Asia serviced by desperate poachers in Africa. In fact, the reality of the illegal trade is much more complicated. This article sets out to reveal the crisis faced by the world community because of the vanishing elephant population, to examine the role of the United States in this unfolding tragedy, and to explain crucial policy changes proposed by the Obama administration in 2014 that may help bring the planet’s biggest land animal back from the brink of extinction. If admitting we have a problem is the first step, it still leaves an arduous pathway ahead that must be navigated carefully and quickly. Otherwise, we may soon awake to find that the race is over, and we have lost.


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