To follow up on yesterday's post about wayward environmentalism, do you know what many consider to be the number one environmental threat in Africa? If you guessed "elephants" (because they're in the title?) you're right! Since internaltional trade in ivory was restricted at the beck of environmentalists in (I think) 1999, elephant populations have soared, endangering humans, trees, and everything else.

HARARE, Zimbabwe, January 17, 2001 (ENS) - The Zimbabwean government has renewed its demand for legal ivory sales following what authorities say is the swelling of its elephant population. After a single permit under international law issued in 1999, further legal sales are prohibited.

Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management acting director (retired) Brigadier E.W. Kanhanga says that the country's wildlife sanctuaries can no longer hold the elephants which have increasingly become a real danger not only to human beings, but also to the environment and other wild animals.

"We have reached a point where we are saying we do not know what to do with the elephant population here. To say that we have too many elephants would be an understatement," says Kanhanga. ...

In the huge Mana Pools National Park, journalists observed that the elephant has virtually destroyed the vegetation, and all the other animals are now in danger because of lack of food. The park has 3,000 elephants but can sustain only 700.

Hwange, Zimbabwe's largest national park, is currently home to 45,000 elephants when it should hold only 15,000, wildlife officials say. The result has been environmental destruction of such proportion that the lives of other animals such as the black rhino, one of the world's most endangered species, are now under threat.

"To say that we have many elephants is in fact an understatement. What we want the world to know is that we have reached a point where we are saying we do not know what to do with the elephant population here," says M.T. Choto, the deputy director of Zimbabwe's Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management.

While at Cato University this summer, David Schmidtz and his wife Elizabeth Willott delivered a lecture about their recent trip to Africa, including slides that detailed the kind of devestation caused by an uncontrolled elephant population. They also argued that the elephant's only natural predator is man, and claimed that if we won't hunt them then elephants will eventually overrun every ecological sphere in which they can survive.

As with land, the solution to the elephant problem is clear, and the Africans are crying for it.

The southern African countries of Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia that harvested and sold the so-called "managed ivory" under a one time permit in 1999 believe that they should be allowed to use their natural resources, including elephants, in a sustainable manner.

"Wildlife is a renewable resource. If utilised properly and in a sustainable manner, it will go a long way towards improving our people's life as a country and a continent," he says. "We want to make use of this resource which we have in abundance," argues Kanhanga. "The fact that our elephant population is increasing should mean that we have put in place proper and working protection systems. We believe this is something good ... a plus, which those opposed to our call should reward us for."

I have friends from Africa who all tell the same story, not just about elephants but about other endangered species as well. The solution is to "farm" the animals like any other valuable crop, not to just let them run rapant.

Plus, I have a personal stake in the matter as well: the threat of being mailed to Zimbabwe is my Sword of Damocles.

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