Unless Kenya, African countries other than Zimbabwe, and the rest of the world act vigorously to save the elephant and the rhinoceros, they will go the way of the dinosaur.
Conservationists estimate that at today's rate of slaughter, Kenya's approximately 20,000 elephants will be gone by the year 2000. The situation in the rest of Africa may be even worse. Rhinoceros are already an endagered species.Armed poachers have killed more than 90 elephants in Kenya in the last four months. These gangs, carrying automatic rifles and submachine guns, kill not only the animals but also humans who get in their way. Using mechanized chain saws and axes, they remove the ivory tusks.
Poachers also slaughtered the last five rare white rhinos left on public land in Kenya this past week, shooting their way past game wardens. Only 40 white rhinos are left in Kenya, all on private ranches.
Kenya's growing human population - the 4 percent growth rate per year is among the world's highest - accompanied by an increasing use of land for food and cash crops has squeezed wildlife into parks and reserves that are too small to sustain large numbers of animals.
Elephants, concentrated in smaller areas, become more vulnerable to poachers.
Kenya is tackling the problem. President Daniel Arap Moi has warned that poachers will be shot on sight.
The government, seeking ways to make make animals noncompetitive with human welfare, compensates Masai tribes for damage caused by wandering game, gives them a percentage of fees collected by game lodges built in their area and diverts water into their villages.
As a result, Masai income is perhaps nearly double what would have been derived from livestock alone. Consequently, elephants in Masai territory are among the most protected in Kenya.
Zimbabwe has been so successful in a similar approach that it reports an overpopulation of elephants.
The ivory trade involves nearly $1 billion a year. Astonishingly, perhaps 80 percent of all ivory traded has been poached.
One need only walk through Hong Kong to see the enormous demand for ivory jewelry and carvings. To eliminate poaching, demand should be controlled.
The West should press Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea to join other countries in imposing restrictions on the importation and sale of ivory.
Consumers must become aware that each ivory item bought brings the elephant closer to extinction.
Africa countries can do their part. Stricter sentencing for poachers in all African countries would help. Antipoaching units must be better paid, equipped and trained.
At present, Kenya is graduating about 10 men per month for its anti-poaching units; for a country about the size of Texas, this is far too few.
All this requires money and African countries have to choose between pressing needs. Industrialized countries can help by subsidizing the antipoaching effort.
(Arthur Dobrin is leader of the Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island.)