It was only a year ago when a photograph was circulating around the world wide web; that of an elephant standing in the wild sporting bright pink tusks. This stirred the senses, of course, and required a double take. It also begged the question; was this really happening as an elephant conservation effort? Was this photograph real? Was this the latest anti-poaching technique?
While on the surface this may seem to be a brilliant idea, there is one major drawback. This kind of anti-poaching method, this “superficial staining” of the surface of an elephant’s tusks (which are more akin to “a tooth in structure” than, say, a rhino horn) could “easily be sanded down” thus not devaluing their worth to poachers at all.
But this does not mean that those who are devoted to helping elephants, in the fight against poachers, have not been stirred by this creative output from others devoted to the same cause.
Dr. Wasser’s concern (with staining an elephant’s tusks pink) was the element of time** and the plausibility of administering a “permanent stain” (through the ingestion of a food source) to “400,000 skittish elephants”. It would be virtually impossible any other way (than through an elephant’s favorite meal) as “you can’t immobilize 400,000 elephants to stain their tusks”. (The risk being the effects of any anesthetic used to “immobilize” each elephant as well as the risks taken by those actually darting such majestic creatures.)
**”the time it would take to stain the tusks of the 400,000 skittish elephants and the time it will take for the stain to find its way into the tusk”.
As an alternative anti-poaching method Dr. Wasser has pioneered a way to use “DNA evidence to trace the origin of illegal ivory” seized from “major transnational organized crime syndicates” ( a major source of “all of the large shipments of seized ivory”.) This DNA would then pinpoint the ”primary areas” across Africa where both forest and savanna elephants are killed.
Using this scientific approach Dr. Wasser and his team at the University of Washington are hoping to “nail down (areas) where the major killing is happening and to stop it at the source” (with the assistance of each countries’ anti-poaching task force).
Anne Lambert of the International Conservation Fund of Canada addresses the fact that “darting and applying dye to elephants would involve a huge cost and stress and risk to the elephants” which would then just “divert the poaching pressure elsewhere”.
Select methods of devaluing “the poacher’s prize” have been used for years. Such as The Rhino Rescue Project’s method of infusing a rhino’s horn with “an animal-friendly-but-human-unsafe toxin” which effectively prevents a human from purchasing or handling the dangerously toxic horn at all.
Lorinda Hern of RRP also welcomes such creative ideas (as the hot pink elephant tusks) in that they may well “be the spark someone needs to come up with something that does work” (to end the slaughter of our elephants by poachers).
For as long as poachers continue to annihilate our elephants they should know there are those humans just as determined to save the species (such as Dr. Samuel Wasser).
But time is so crucial when it comes to saving elephants. Contribute in any way you can to help elephants (sending a monetary donation to a reputable elephant charity is an amazing way to show you love elephants). Contribute now before it is too late.
Images: Pink tusk elephant ; Pixabay Majestic African Elephant Tuskers , Two elephants entwined ; Wikipedia Smiling elephant with tusks ; CC Flickr: Poached Elephant Carcass by US Fish & Wildlife Service
“Evidence From Ivory DNA Identifies Two Main Elephant Poaching Hotspots” by Hannah Hickey and Michelle Ma