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By Diane Small
As most people know, elephants are in crisis: 100 years ago, there were around five million elephants in Africa; today, there are less than half a million, and that’s mainly down to poaching for ivory. Indeed, nearly 55 elephants are killed every single day for their tusks, and if we don’t stop elephant poaching soon, these animals could all but disappear from the wild in the coming decades.
African elephants are a keystone species with a valuable role to play culturally, aesthetically, and within their own diverse and varied ecosystems. Known as ‘gardeners of the forest’, elephants disperse plant species by depositing undigested seeds in their dung, and modify landscapes by uprooting trees and digging for water during the dry season. These natural foraging behaviours help other animals survive in harsh environmental conditions.
Elephants are also highly sentient creatures. They live in close-knit family groups of individuals who care for and protect their young. And, just like humans, they mourn the loss of family members, which means that when cold-hearted poachers kill adult elephants for their tusks, they’re often leaving heartbroken infants orphaned. The lucky ones are rescued – the majority will almost certainly perish.
It all sounds quite bleak, but there are some people making a huge difference to stop elephant poaching. And Motuma Adula Ragasa is one of them.
We interviewed this Project Officer for the Born Free’s Elephant Conservation Project at Babille Elephant Sanctuary (BES) in Ethiopia to ask him why he risks his life for animals, and more.
First of all: why did you choose this line of work?
To make a change! Elephants face several problems and they are under threat of extinction due to human influence, and I wanted to help stop this. Every year, thousands of elephants are illegally slaughtered for their ivory. Also the spread of the human population affects the elephant’s original habitats and range of movement. This in turn increases the degree of human-elephant conflict in which elephants are no longer able to survive. These are the major problems our elephants face in the Babille Elephant Sanctuary (BES). Since the 1980s, we have lost more than 90% of the country’s elephants.
Elephants need well protected areas to freely roam in their natural habitat in order to get adequate food, water and shelter. They need our help in their survival and if we do not act to protect them today, there will be no more elephants in the near future. So that’s why I become involved in this important task – to protect their future with the Born Free Foundation.
Also, I love elephants! I have a deep affection for them, which comes from spending a lot of time watching them in their family units and learning so much about the threats they face in the Sanctuary.
What is the scariest moment you have ever had at work?
Clashing with poachers – two times I faced poachers whilst we were on an anti-poaching operations in February 2017 and July 2018. Poachers normally use very sophisticated firearms to kill elephants and although our field rangers who we patrol with are also armed, their equipment cannot match the poachers’ equipment, so it’s very scary.
What’s been one of your greatest triumphs?
I will never forget the day we arrested one poacher in February 2017 by well organised operation from the Ethiopian army, key informers, and our anti poaching rangers. I’m among the team members who facilitated the operation; we come to the poacher through intelligence. The poacher started using gunfire against the anti poaching operation, but thanks to the operations team, we finally we succeeded to arrest the poacher after we wounded him, and he was sentenced two years and three months in jail.
You’re quite a hero to the animals! Who are your heroes?
Ararso Ahimed is my wildlife hero. Ararso is Scout Head for the Fedis ranger’s outpost.
Really, he is a unique man, so well disciplined and strong on the field for intelligence work, especially during crime investigations. He has the talent to convince locals (to help save the elephants) and comes up with strategies to help us face the conflicts we sometimes have with locals.
What do you think is the best solution to elephant poaching situation?
It is very important to set up intelligence networks in all areas that elephants reside or move around in. These networks ask the local communities to support the area’s anti-poaching teams.
We also need to work with law enforcement agencies/ judicial bodies for stronger jail terms and larger fines and burn ivory in front of local residents as deterrent to poaching.
Finally, it is essential to work closely with community elders and youth groups to educate them on the elephant species and raise awareness of poaching.
What change do you want to see in, say, 20 years?
My vision for twenty years to secure the future of elephants and see restored healthy forests filled with growing elephant families by developing a strategic plan to make this happen.
What positive changes to you see now?
Steps are finally being taken in the right direction – China officially closed its domestic ivory market back in 2017, the USA has taken resolute action, the majority of Africa countries are calling for the trade to end – and the UK Government plans to end almost all domestic ivory trade by October 2018, However, there is still a great deal more to be done.
While there is still a demand, poachers, and the criminal networks that support them, will continue to destroy a symbol of all that is wild and free. There is much we still have to do to end the slaughter and secure a safe, long-term future for these iconic animals.
What we, the public, do to help stop elephant poaching?
The key is to understand that WE humans are the cause of extinction, but we are also the solution to the wildlife problem, too! Here are a few things you can do to make a difference:
- Sign Born Free’s ivory petition – here.
- Adopt Born Free’s Elephant Family – this is a large, close-knit herd who live in Kenya’s Amboseli Park, at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. Become part of the family here.
- Support the Born Free ivory amnesty– by clicking here.
- Donate – Born Free urgently need funds for their life-saving work in Cameroon, Ethiopia and Kenya. Click here to do so.
- Spread the word – share this article and encourage others to sign the petition and support elephant charities!