CNN: Elephant Poaching a 'Tragedy Beyond Reckoning'

Guest columnist says saving the African elephant more urgent than a nuclear Iran.

Elephants are one of nature’s most popular creatures. And one of its most protected. The ivory trade has been outlawed for many decades. Yet, a recent CNN guest column claimed that renewed poaching to feed an illegal Asian ivory market (along with more run-of-the-mill lefty environmental threats) is “a tragedy beyond reckoning.”

The hyperbolic June 15 article that said saving the elephant is “an urgent moral imperative” (those, to the author, are the words of Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel).  The piece, by photographer and filmmaker Cyril Christo, explained the killing of the elephant is one of the pressing world issues.

As Christo explained, “At the start of the 1980s there were over a million elephants, during that decade 600,000 were destroyed for ivory products. Today perhaps no more than 400,000 remain across Africa.”

The decline of African elephants is certainly lamentable, but Christo’s description of the crisis makes it hard to take seriously his hysterical “sky is falling” projection of its consequences. Can it really be “an urgent moral imperative” to address a problem that, in the author’s own words, was acute three decades ago, but has been more or less stable the last 20 years?

(Besides the poaching, Christo made sure to check a couple of favorite liberal environmentalist boxes: “Growth in human population is a major concern. Millennial old elephant migration paths have been disrupted. Climate change is a menace to the elephant and all life.”)

Christo asked “How amidst NATO's missile defense problems in Europe, a possible nuclear Iran and the economic failings of modern nations, unemployment and inflation, can the future of the elephant be so urgent?” he asked. The “answer comes from our ability to affirm life in its moral, ethical and I would urge humanity to consider, in its spiritual dimensions.”

And it’s existential – or at least nostalgic – dimensions too, since elephants and us go way back. Christo insisted they were “central to our evolution” and “one of the pillars of existence.” They “helped us walk out of Africa perhaps 60,000 years ago. We learned from tribal elders in east Africa that elephants, because they knew where to find water, helped humanity survive. It was alongside them that we populated the New World.”

In terms of its more tangible fallout, several conservationists and no less an authority than Sen. John Kerry, D, Mass., believes it impacts “criminal syndicates who make billions on the illegal wildlife trade and its impact on local populations in Africa, global security and even terrorism.”

It also fits nicely with a new cause célèbre for the environmental left – “biodiversity.” Christo pointed out that “Not long ago The UK's Independent newspaper proclaimed that the loss of biodiversity was the greatest threat to humanity.” And that should concern even heartless capitalists. “In a society fixated on growth and money, the TEEB, (the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) has plainly demonstrated the irreplaceable value of biodiversity which yearly provides trillions of dollars of value.”