By Mackenzie Sower
The African Elephant Project
It’s Saturday down south during the fall and everyone knows what that means… football.
Walking through The Quad on The University of Alabama’s campus is a sight to be seen on game day. While mazing through the people and tailgate tents, the aroma of BBQ fills the air. People shout “Roll Tide!” from all over and the Million Dollar Band is playing. Nothing can compare to the ambiance. However, by 2025, all of it could be changed.
Big Al, The Capstone’s official mascot, is of the African Elephant species. He attends every football game; other main sports events, and some days he randomly shows up at The Ferguson Student Center. He is known for having his own song “Tusk” during the Million Dollar Band pre-game performance. The band forms an elephant formation and walks the football field while Big Al is in the middle. Of course, he is very photogenic too. Once on the sideline, kids and adults of all ages get pictures with the beloved Big Al. After all, did you really attend an Alabama football game without getting a picture with him?
Anyone can agree that without Big Al, The University of Alabama would not be the same. He is a major face of the university, and someone that everyone loves. The fact of the matter is that all of it could be changed by 2025, when the African Elephant is projected to become extinct. 96 elephants are murdered per day for their tusks. African Elephants have large tusks that are made from ivory, a highly valued material that is sold in black markets around the world. Around one third of an elephant’s tusk is embedded into its head, which is why the mammal is killed. Adding onto the poaching, African Elephants hold the record for the slowest reproductive cycle. The gestation time, or length of pregnancy, is around 22 months.
Considering there are 12 months in a year, that’s around 2 years! In addition, female elephants are typically 15 years old before mating and can only carry one calf at a time. The death rate is higher than the birth rate, making African Elephants an endangered species.
The African Elephant is more than just a mascot. Elephants are considered keystone species in the African landscape. They help maintain balance for all other species by clearing trees and breaking up bushes. Using their valued tusks, they dig waterholes. Needless to say, without elephants, many animals in the safari would die.
In addition, elephants have low cancer rates. Cancer is caused by genetic changes, or mutations, in the DNA sequence of cells. This causes cells to divide and grow in uncontrollable, and unnatural amounts. The NIH reports that for elephants “the overall lifetime chance of dying from cancer was less than 5%.” In humans, this is suggested to be around 20%. The explanation for these numbers correlates to the number of TP53 alleles. TP53 in the genetic DNA code sequences for the protein p53, a tumor suppressor. It stops damaged, mutated DNA from dividing, which, in turn, prevents cancer growth. Humans are found to have two alleles of TP53, while elephants have an outrageous number of at least 40 TP53 alleles. Research on the differences between elephant and human TP53 genes could lead to cancer prevention in people.
So, what can be done to help? It’s easy! The first, and simplest step, is to raise awareness. Sharing with friends, family, and posts on social media is a great way to get the word around. Being involved in an elephant conservation organization is another great option. Some cities have local clubs, but worldwide groups can be found on the internet. The last is to donate to those who are closer to the root of the poaching. After all, these are the people directly involved in anti-poaching.
Elephants are beautiful creatures who need protecting. Big Al is the face of The
University of Alabama, but African Elephants are the face of the safari. It is the duty
and responsibility of the Alabama family, and the rest of the world, to protect the ones that are loved. Take action; no time is better than the present.
After all, Alabama Does. Roll Tide.
By Elizabeth Selmarten
The African Elephant Project
It was a brisk, Friday morning in late November. Leaves were on the ground but the sun shone bright, creating a beautiful day to take your family, or in my case, a certain beloved pachyderm mascot to the zoo.
I escorted Big Al through the Birmingham Zoo straight to where his species, the African elephants, were roaming around. The meeting between the mascot and his real-life counterpart was almost something only to be imagined. It was simply incredible to watch Big Al bond and interact with Callee, one of the three bull elephants at the zoo. The two were like one in the same. Big Al would do one of his signature poses and Callee would follow his lead, mimicking the same poses. I just stood and watched in awe. I have never seen or heard of anything remotely similar to what I just witnessed in my life.
Then I saw that it wasn’t just me watching the elephants and Big Al. We were surrounded by groups of children, teachers and parents, whom were all standing in awe as well. The little kids pointed excited towards Big Al and were yelling excitedly to each other about the presence of Big Al with real elephants and how they were doing the same thing.
It was after that moment that it really hit me: how majestic and smart these large mammals are and if I don’t do something, they really could possibly be gone in as short as my lifetime. Future generations would never be able to have an experience like I had just had. Elephants could become the modern day dinosaur with the rise of poaching among other factors. The University of Alabama could seriously have an extinct mascot in the future. That thought seriously shook me up, as I dearly love elephants.
To be honest, I’ve always loved elephants. My affection towards the tusked creatures started when I was a little girl, long before I had even heard of the University of Alabama. Lucky for me, it was a great coincidence that I ended up attending a school where my favorite animal just happened to be the mascot. My love for elephants eventually led me to pick up and cover a story last semester on a mascot conservation program, Tide for Tusks, for Mosaic Magazine.
In my research and interviews, I quickly realized the horrifying truth about the endangered status of the African elephant. I had no idea prior to this story that every fifteen minutes, an African elephant is killed. I knew as soon as I found out, I had to tell this story to the best of my abilities for the African elephant, for Big Al.
Along with my story designer and photographer, I arranged a photo shoot with Big Al at the Birmingham Zoo. It wasn’t till watching Big Al interact with Callee and seeing the children’s reactions that I changed from being just a writer dedicated to sharing a compelling story she found interesting. I became more than that.
Deciding I could do more, I formally joined the club as well as the spring honors seminar class I had written about. I’ve learned so much in the class the opportunities out there, both field and non-field efforts. One of the biggest key-takeaways I’ve learned so far that I hope to help with in the future is raising awareness through building a brand with a website and active social media accounts. Raising awareness is one of the most crucial parts in order to successfully conserve mascots like the African elephant. This is one of the many ways I can help since I don’t have to travel to Africa or have scientific background to accomplish this. One of the most interesting aspects of mascot conservation is that anyone could contribute something to the cause, regardless of how small the contribution is.
I hope to help Tide For Tusks increase awareness and action so we aren’t the generation that sees the extinction of the African elephant. It’s on us to help do our own part to save the elephants.
Written by Amelia Kisling
UA Student - African Elephant Project
The concept of a class dedicated entirely to elephants made my heart sing, so of course I signed up immediately. I told everyone I could about it, and most people were jealous that I was getting class credit for simply talking about my favorite animal. I had no idea what to expect from my small honors seminar, and on the first day I realized this class would not be rainbows and butterflies – we were talking about reality, and that reality is that elephants are being killed. They are being killed for their beautiful ivory tusks at a rate of 96 elephants every day.
When I met my classmates, I discovered that we all had different majors. Some were pre-med, some public relations, some psychology, some engineering. And then there was me – an accounting and criminal justice dual degree who felt a little lost on what I could possibly do to make a difference. I want to go into the FBI not open my own elephant conservatory. Then I learned something that changed my entire perspective on these elephant killings: Ivory poaching has been linked to funding terrorist groups in Africa. This was one of the most shocking things I had heard in the class. Not only were these gentle giants being poisoned and shot, butchered and beheaded for their tusks, but the ivory itself was used to help finance terrorist groups, one of the most universally feared things, enabling them to get all the weapons they need to continue killing across Africa. Learning this was my turning point; I knew I wanted my career to revolve around terrorism, so why shouldn’t it involve saving my favorite animal from being killed as well?
So I did research.
I read several articles about terrorist groups in Africa that use ivory trade as their main source of income. There were three terrorist groups that seemed to come up often: Somalia’s Al-Shabaab, the Lord’s Resistance Army, or L.R.A., and Darfur’s Janjaweed. The most prominent, however, was Al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab is a Somali, al-Qaeda-backed terror group responsible for the Kenyan Westgate shopping mall massacre, which killed at least 68 people and left at least 150 people injured, back in September of 2013. Three years ago, the Elephant Action League, or EAL, conducted an 18-month undercover investigation into the link between Al-Shabaab and the illegal trafficking of ivory through Kenya. The organization’s findings suggested that Al-Shabaab has been actively buying and selling ivory to fund its militant operations and that ivory trafficking “could be supplying up to 40% of the funds needed to keep them in business’’ (AEL: Africa’s White Gold of Jihad).
With anti-poaching tactics so poorly funded, terrorist groups find poaching an easy option to fund their organizations. Even rangers have been gunned down trying to protect elephants, but when groups like Al-Shabaab come in from the sky on helicopters and shoot elephants before they even know what happened, a handful of rangers really don’t stand a chance. Wildlife agencies aren’t prepared to fight terrorist groups and rebel armies, it’s not how they operate. And with increased ivory prices, poaching has increased as a result. Luckily, the United States has begun to view wildlife trafficking as a national security threat. This publicity on such a serious matter is incredible progress, but it will not make this problem go away. It is, however, a great start.
Nothing about ivory poaching is beneficial. Elephants are being killed, altering entire ecosystems in their absence, watering holes are being poisoned, killing more than just those elephants they are taking ivory from, and at the end of the day, another terrorist group gets to put guns in their hands. This means that its not just the elephants that are dying – people are dying, too. The African Elephant Project taught me that I don’t need to be experienced with biology or non-profit or even large animal care to take a stand against such heinous crimes. With just a little more knowledge than I had before my first day, I now see where my place is in this fight. It may not be in Tanzania at an elephant orphanage. I may not do research on protective tactics for these amazing creatures. I may never even go to Africa. This does not mean I won’t do everything in my power to make a difference in this fight. And all it took was one fact to make me realize that.
Written by Shelby Critcher
UA Student - African Elephant Project
I would venture to say that elephants are many people’s favorite animals; I know they are one of mine. Elephants are not only awesome to look at but they are an extremely important component to our ecosystem. They serve as a keystone species, meaning that if elephants did not exist the entire ecosystem would be drastically altered or possibly cease to exist. While elephants are still one of my favorite animals, I have learned while being in my African Elephant Project class that they are not exactly harmless creatures. My previous thought that they were simply gentle giants has been proven incorrect.
Besides the terrible killings of elephants by poachers who are killing the elephants strictly for ivory there are still many other reasons why elephants are dying today and in turn, causing the elephant population to be on the decline.
One of these reasons is because elephants in Asia and Africa raid farmers crops. These crops are how these people make their living and with that being threatened and possibly destroyed in as little as one night by a heard of elephants they are forced to take extreme measures, some which have ended in death of both the humans and elephants.
This problem was one that I had not heard of before and it greatly saddens me because elephants already face enough because of the poachers. Elephants are herbivores meaning there is no reason for them to attack humans unless provoked. In learning about this I am excited to tell you that there is a solution! Bee hives! Who would have thought? Beehive fences are still experimental but have had great success to date.
The basic idea is that beehives are placed every 10 meters and connected with a series of wires so that if an elephant runs into a wire it will disturb the beehive releasing the bees. The buzzing of the bees instantly causes the elephants to turn away, or at least that is the goal. Research has been done on the effect of bees on elephants and this is where the idea came from.
These beehive fences have many other advantages as well. They are relatively cheap, costing between $150-$500 every 100m depending on the type of beehives you use. They reduce the number of elephant crop raids, which is the ultimate goal. By preventing these raids it also decreases the cost that the farmers have to pay in damages caused by the elephant raids. Another bonus is the additional income that comes from the honey produced by the beehives.
I am excited that beehive fences are growing in Africa and Asia and research still continues with this idea. There is no reason for more elephants to die. By being in this class I have learned so much already about awareness and I hope through this I have also made you aware. Please share this new information with others in hopes of increasing awareness and making a difference.
University of Alabama students and fans are gearing up in great anticipation as the Alabama football team prepares to take on Clemson for the College Football National Championship in Glendale, AZ next Monday. This National Championship presents an opportunity to showcase the work that students, faculty, alumni, and fans of both universities are doing to protect their mascots. Both Big Al and The Tiger are hallmarks of the athletic programs at the University of Alabama and Clemson University, respectively.
Unfortunately, their wild counterparts are declining across their natural ranges. Habitat loss and a global poaching crisis are driving elephants and tigers toward extinction. However, Tide for Tusks and Tigers for Tigers are working to ensure their mascots continue to thrive in the wild. Although we may be rivals on the field, by channeling the passion of two of the most powerful fan bases in all of college football we can truly make a difference for the future of our wild mascots.
During the National Championship Game, Tide For Tusks and the National Tigers For Tigers Coalition are leading a joint social media campaign with the two student-led initiatives from the University of Alabama and Clemson University. With a stadium filled with an estimated 65,000 people, the two organizations will ask thousands of students and fans to show their solidarity for their wild mascots by using the hash-tag #ProtectOurMascots.
Our hope is that this effort will become much broader in scope to bring about an exchange of ideas and to develop new avenues for research and conservation. It is only with the conscientious support of the University of Alabama students, faculty, staff and alumni – who deeply believe in protecting a keystone species like the African elephant – that we can become a part of the solution to save a wildlife icon for future generations.
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By Reata Strickland
As a child I remember singing a song called “There’s a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea”. You would start out with a hole and then end up with “On the speck on the flea on the tail on the frog on the bump on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.” For the past three years I have devoted a great deal of time and energy to researching the African elephant. The issue that attracted my attention to the African elephant was the rate that these magnificent creatures were and are being slaughtered each year. The numbers quoted by reputable sources are between 30,000 and 35,000 each year. Being a graduate of The University of Alabama, where the African elephant is the mascot and a beloved symbol, these numbers are alarming. But there’s so much more to this than just the number of elephants killed a year.
The killing of African elephants for ivory is just one step in a long journey. The poached ivory from the massacred elephants are used by militant groups to fund terror and purchase guns. Park rangers and villagers on the African front are caught in the middle of a bloody struggle where life has little to no value. The militant groups sell ivory to illegal smugglers who then ship or fly the ivory to Asia. In Asia, the ivory is made into carvings, keychains, and trinkets. These goods are then sold and shipped around the world. Mainland China is considered to be the world’s largest ivory consumer, however the United States is the world’s second largest ivory consumer.
The ivory trade is a bloody trail that ends up on exhibit in someone’s home on a table or bookshelf. The laws governing ivory trade are ambiguous and people do not know what ivory is legal or illegal. Smugglers and terrorists take advantage of this ambiguity and map out a road of destruction, death and terror.
There are many things in the hole in the bottom of the sea, and there are many factors to the killing of elephants in Africa. To stop the song and the build up of things in the hole in the bottom of the sea, you stop singing the song. To stop the killing of the elephants, we need to stop the demand for ivory. Stop the demand, that will stop the trade, that will stop the poaching, that will stop the killing of the elephants in Africa.
Please do something. Join us in our efforts to raise awareness for the dire situation facing the African elephants and help us promote conservation of this threatened species. Care. Share. Give!
Appalling! I am overcome with consternation, shock and dismay upon reading that the carcasses of 40 elephants, along with scores of other wild animal remains, were found to be indiscriminately poisoned by poachers using cyanide in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. The murderers committed these crimes in October of this year solely for the purpose of stealing the ivory tusks. The discovery of this atrocity was made only days after scientists announced a breakthrough in cancer research related to elephants.
We’ve often heard that elephants never forget, but have only recently discovered that they almost never get cancer (Journal of American Medical Association, October, 2015). New research indicates that the gentle-giant has super cancer fighting abilities due to a genetic make-up allowing it to create a protein to suppress tumors. Over a three year period, scientists performed a variety of experiments to prove that elephants can fend off cancer.
Given the vast size of our largest land mammal, having about 100 times more cells than humans and an equally lengthy lifespan of about 70 years, one might think that elephants would be more susceptible to cancer than us. However, scientists say that there are fewer than five percent cancer related deaths in elephants compared to nearly 25% in humans. Researchers say that the next step is to see if they can use what has been learned from studying the elephants and apply it to treating people with cancer.
There is still a lot of research to be done and we have much to learn from the elephants. That is only one of many reasons why it is critical that we do something to stop the horrifying and daunting destruction of the animal which could one day lead to the largest discovery in the fight to cure cancer.
Please do something. Join us in our efforts to raise awareness for the dire situation facing the African elephants and help us promote conservation of this threatened species. Care. Share. Give!
November 30, 2015
There are two countries that can help stop the disappearance of elephants from the wild – the US and China. However, the National Rifle Association would rather turn a blind eye toward elephant conservation than see a restriction placed on the number of trophies that can be imported into the US by their members.
An alarming increase in demand for ivory is driving the elephants toward extinction and the US is the second largest market for importing ivory goods (made in China). Imposing limits on trophy imports, or better yet an outright ban on any ivory, is a great first step toward improving conservation efforts to restore the dwindling population of the African elephant.
Tightening controls helps to close loopholes and avenues that are being exploited by traffickers and terrorist groups that fund their efforts with money from the ivory trade. It also provides clearer guidelines for the US Fish and Wildlife Service to use to curtail the efforts of those who are illegally smuggling ivory into the US.
Poachers have ties to organized crime and violent groups who cross international boarders to slaughter elephants for their tusks. They are typically better armed than the park rangers and quite often the standoffs result in a desperate fight for survival for the men charged with protecting the wildlife. As is evident from the recent October dragnet operation in the Congo Garamba National Park resulting in the deaths of three rangers and a Congolese colonel.
I hold a firm belief that improved conservation efforts will help promote economic growth in Africa, especially in countries that rely on wildlife tourism, and fight the people intent on terrorizing communities and destroying governments. Establishing a US policy to ban the import of ivory is an example of how protecting wildlife can be tied directly to concerns about improving the economy, address corruption within governments, and our own national security issues.
As a proponent of game hunting and wildlife conservation, I am disturbed by the efforts spearheaded by the National Rifle Association to block or water down any action to help protect the African elephants. If the NRA really wants to do something to improve conservation, then perhaps they should give upgraded firearms to the national park rangers who are protecting the wildlife from poachers.
Cash strapped game reserves in Swaziland are holding 18 elephants hostage and threaten to kill them if they are not sold to American zoos. Managers of the group of reserves called Big Game Parks, claim that they have too many elephants and the pachyderms are destroying habitat and crowding out other species like the rhino. The truth of the matter is that the enclosure around the reserves are too small.
Swaziland is tiny in comparison to other African nations. The whole country would fit neatly inside the perimeter of Kruger National Park in neighboring South Africa. The elephant population is only about 40 strong in Swaziland and the managers of Big Game Park want to reduce that by about half. And this comes at a time when poachers are killing almost 100 elephants a day in other parts of Africa – threatening the very existence of the species.
It is pointless to take elephants out of the wild and ship them 9,000 miles away to be held in captivity.
The reserve managers do not need to look far to find natural habitat closer to home – including their
own government run reserves in Swaziland. This is not the first time this has happened. In 2003, 11
elephants from the same game reserves were sold to US zoos. This is beginning to sound like the
reserves in Swaziland are nothing more than breeding farms.
And one must also question the ethics and moral values of the administrators of a zoo that would want
to even consider taking wild elephants. But that is exactly what the Dallas Zoo and its cohorts are
planning to do. All imports of animals recognized by the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species (CITES) must first be approved by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Buying and
selling of African elephants and ivory is prohibited under CITES. However, the Dallas Zoo is requesting
permission for an exception to this policy.
It is unethical and detrimental to the health of elephants to separate them from their natural family
herds and banish them to a life of captivity. Doing so will most certainly not provide any conservation
benefit to the species! It is dishonest for the reserve managers to claim that they have “too many”
elephants when the species has been completely exterminated in neighboring elephant range countries.
I view this as merely a tactical ploy to sell off the herd to the highest bidder with complete disregard to
the health and welfare of the elephant.
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Globally, the average cost of an assault rifle is about $534. In Africa the cost is about $200 less – or
around $334 for an AK-47. With the increasing demand for ivory in Asia, an average pair of elephant
tusks that are sold on the black market can bring about $33,500. A criminal gang of poachers knows
that one elephant can net about 100 AK-47 assault rifles – enough to arm a small army. You may recall
that the Somali terrorist group that attacked unaware shoppers in the Westgate Mall in Kenya used
ivory that was poached from neighboring countries to pay for its maneuvers.
So what is a wild elephant really worth? I’m not sure I could place a clear dollar value on the price of
seeing a bull elephant making a trumpet call to ward off a bachelor male approaching too closely to a
safe guarded harem. Or witnessing a female tusker gently nudge her months-old calf up the steep banks
of a mud hole and shepherd it to safety with the rest of the herd. Too often, we take for granted the
things that stir our emotional inner being – a spectacular waterfall, a vivid sunset, an eagle soaring
across the sky, or a deer grazing in a distant field. I view these moments as being priceless. Someone
less passionate and more calculated might give them a price tag – such as an admission to enter a park,
a fee for a glimpse through a mounted viewfinder, or a paid guided tour through a wildlife preserve.
With the global expansion of a middle class and more disposable income available for the savvy traveler
to see nature, are people willing to spend money on seeing a wild elephant? An article I recently read
about travel indicated that the average daily rate for an African safari is around $800 to $1,000 (typically
lasting ten days to two weeks). With most African villages lacking basic infrastructure (running water,
sewer and reliable electricity) the continent may be underdeveloped, but the safari lodges and camps
are among the most glamorous and expensive in the world. It is estimated that tourism in Tanzania
alone, with wildlife safaris at the top of the list, generate around 2 billion dollars annually. People want
to see elephants in the wild!
Conservation of elephants benefits all people - it pours cultures together creating an economy of
wildlife. Animal enthusiasts from all over the world can see the majestic creature in its natural habitat,
contributing to the local economy through the hiring of rangers and guides; staying at lodges and camps
that in turn hire local people as hospitality staff, porters, chefs, waiters, bus boys, and housekeepers.
There is a considerable, sustainable value for maintaining the conservation of elephants living in the wild
– the whole community prospers. That is why it was shocking for me to read that the Zimbabwean Minister of Environment, Water and Climate, Oppah Muchinguri, would blame a ban on sport hunting by the United States for increased poaching. She was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, “All this poaching is because of American policies. They are banning sport hunting. An elephant would cost $120,000 in sport hunting, but a tourist pays on $10 to view the same elephant.” That may be true, but what happens when there are no more elephants to be hunted or seen in the wild?
The African elephants are in an extreme dire situation. It is estimated that there are only 350,000
elephants in the wild today. In 2013 alone, Tanzania reported losing about 10,000 elephants – or on
average about 30 a day. Poachers are responsible for about 90 percent of these deaths that occur in the
national parks and wildlife reserves – simply to feed the illegal ivory trade. Huge amounts of ivory are
being smuggled out of Tanzania to supply illicit markets in Asia. The large scale of elephant poaching
and ivory trafficking have major safety and economic implications for Tanzania. The decline in elephant
populations and the presence of armed poachers in protected areas could jeopardize the future of
tourism and seriously impact the national economy.
Back to my original question: What is a wild elephant really worth? If you use the formula offered by
Zimbabwean Minister Muchinguri, then there are only about $420 billion worth of elephants living in
the wild today. According to the World Wildlife Fund if the current trend for poaching continues, then
the African elephant will become extinct in ten years – and they will be worth nothing.
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