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The elephant has always been the most coveted trophy among leisure hunters. Their size – the largest land mammal on the planet – and large ivory tusks have attracted the greed of men who, from the beginning of time have pursued the pachyderm eager for its tusks, its meat and its thick skin.
The devastating slaughters by ivory hunters and the gradual loss of habitats brought on by increased human populations in Africa, reduced an elephant population.
The creation of national parks and a set of international measures including the prohibition of the ivory trade have slowed down what seemed to be a race towards extinction. But for elephants, the future is still uncertain.
One of the best African parks for observing and studying elephants is Amboseli, in southern Kenya.
Elephants play in important role in the ecosystem where they live. They are one of the few animals capable of modifying their surrounding environment which can cause serious environmental problems – and their activity is followed by that of many smaller species.
Amboseli has always been an area where elephants have found protection. The Masai tribe kept poachers at bay and since the creation of the national park the Wildlife Department guards the herds. Consequently, Amboseli is one of the last places in Africa where the elephant population is intact.
The families have members of all ages, from new-borns to matriarchs more than 60 years old. And what is even more rare nowadays, there is a large number of adult males between 40 and 50 years old, when in the rest of Africa few males live beyond the age of 25 since their larger tusks make them the poachers’ first target.
The powerful tusks of African elephants are indispensable instruments. They are tools for digging in the ground in search of water, salt and roots; they are used to remove the bark from trees, as an exhibition element, as a defensive or offensive weapon and as a means of supporting and protecting the trunk. But unfortunately they are made of ivory, which has always attracted the greed of man.
In 1988, an average of three elephants per day were lost to poachers.
The poaching problem not only affects the animals that are killed for their ivory. The death of these adults leaves their offspring helpless; without the group’s protection they have no chance of surviving. Or so it was until David and Daphne Sheldrick arrived at the Tsavo National Park, near Amboseli.
In Amboseli, the dilemma of the elephants lies ahead for those responsible for the park. The elephants are increasing in number and no agreement has been reached on how to control them. But it would be sad to think that man, capable of the greatest scientific and intellectual advances and responsible for the elephants’ situation in Africa, could find no other solution than the barbaric slaughtering of such marvellous creatures.