If you so much as kick a dog or cat in many nations, you would likely have to answer to local authorities. But in Africa, the venerable elephant — long considered one of the most intelligent animals on earth — still suffers at the hands of brutal poachers.
A reminder of Africa's persistent elephant-poaching problem came on Friday when Tsavo Trust confirmed that a 45-year-old elephant named Satao, living in Tsavo East National Park in Kenya, was found killed by poachers on May 30.
"Satao was shot dead by poisoned arrow on 30th May 2014," according to a statement from Tsavo Trust, a Kenyan non-profit organization that supports wildlife. "We spotted his carcass on 2nd June, but to avoid any potential false alarms, we first took pains to verify the carcass really was his."
The death of Satao highlights the region's ongoing poaching crisis. More than 20,000 elephants were killed on the African continent in 2013, according to a recent report from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Last week, reports surfaced that police had recovered 200 elephant tusks stored in a warehouse in Mombasa, Kenya. Last July, the Kenyan government found 1.6 tons of ivory at the port of Mombasa, and just days later, Kenyan customs officials discovered3.5 tons of illegal ivory. In both cases in 2013, the ivory supplies were reportedly bound for Malaysia.
An April report from Born Free USA, an animal-advocacy group, presented researchlinking some elephant and rhino poaching in Africa to organized crime and terrorist organizations. Kenya's poaching problem has reached such high levels in recent years that in March, local officials announced plans to deploy drones to monitor the safety of the country's elephants and rhinos.
"If China, for example, and Thailand today banned the use of ivory in those two countries, the level of illegal killing of elephants in Africa will drastically go down because the prices will go down," Patrick Omondi, deputy director of wildlife conservation for the Kenya Wildlife Service, said during an appearance on NTV Kenya last month.
Despite an international ban on ivory trade enacted by CITES in 1989, elephant poaching continues to plague the African plains.
However, the issue is gradually gaining mainstream attention. Last month, actor Leonardo DiCaprio donated $1 million to the Elephant Crisis Fund. "
The decimation of these animals is something we have the power to stopThe decimation of these animals is something we have the power to stop, and the Elephant Crisis Fund is a crucial part of the solution," DiCaprio said in statement accompanying the grant's announcement.
And while some may view the fight to protect elephants as part of a long list of wildlife-protection efforts, the fact is that they are a vulnerable and highly intelligent species.
A 2006 study that focused on mirror self-recognition, an indication of intelligence, found that Asian elephants could recognize themselves in the mirror. Another study published in the same year suggested that elephants, like humans, attach importance to the remains of their deceased family members.
In the comments section underneath the announcement of Satao's death, Tsavo Trust CEO Tanya Saunders explained how such a well-known and closely watched elephant could fall into the hands of poachers. "Satao was seen by our monitoring aircraft three days before he was killed," Saunders wrote. "Sadly, there simply are not enough resources to provide 24-7 surveillance."