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African elephants on verge of extinction

Atlanta (CNN) Elephants in their magnificent splendor — grazing in the sub-Saharan African wild.

But these gray giants are in trouble.

Wildlife experts say poachers are slaughtering them — as many as 25,000 a year because of their ivory tusks.

Loxodonta africana African elephant Family group drinking at water hole Sub-Sarahan Africa

elephant verticalIf things don’t change soon, the African elephant could be extinct within a few decades.

Tshekedi Khama is Botswana’s Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism. “It is up to Africa to say, ‘No.’ We have to say, ‘No.’ But as long as the political will is not there and as long as corruption is in place, I can guarantee you, it is going to take longer than we would like.”

Poaching has surged in recent years with gangs killing elephants in record numbers to feed the ever-increasing demand for ivory.

In 2013, conservation groups estimated there were as few as 420,000 elephants left in Africa.

Speaking in China earlier this month, Prince William, The Duke of Cambridge, helped sound the alarm. “The extinction of animals such as elephants and rhinos and pangolins would be an immeasurable loss to the whole of humanity. The illegal wildlife trade is therefore our common enemy. It is a vicious form of criminality.”

prince william

The governments in Kenya and Ethiopia have staged ivory bonfires. Tons of tusks up in smoke.

“By doing this, we are passing the message to illegal traders not to participate in such activities,” Tadelech Dalecho, Ethiopian State Minister of Culture and Tourism, said.

ivory tusk

elephant 2Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta said, “Our commitment to save our great species especially the elephant and rhino remains as strong as ever.”

Wildlife experts at this week’s Africa Elephant Summit in Botswana say these public burnings don’t go far enough.

“Countries who have destroyed ivory are not doing due diligence in having independent audits perform about the ivory they are destroying. In some cases, unscrupulous countries could have been trading ivory illegally and they pretend to destroy it.”

Most of the ivory that is smuggled out of Africa ends up in Asia.

Analysts say it is an $8-$10 billion a year international industry. Once smuggled out of Africa, the ivory is sculpted into jewelry or art pieces and collected by the rich.

ivory jewelry

In 2014, China was one of more than 30 countries that adopted a set of urgent conservation measures to combat the illegal trade.

“China has been strictly cracking down on the illegal smuggling and trades of ivory at every aspect, including legislation, judicature and law enforcement,” said Hong Lei with the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Last week, Thai police arrested a Malaysian businessman and his associates — seizing 51 tusks worth about $180,000.

Authorities there have also called for owners to register their domesticated elephants and their ivory possessions. Failure to do so could lead to three years in prison and hefty fines.

“Before, ivory products were all underground. We never knew how much was out there, who owned it and where they were,” Thailand’s National Parks Director said. “But now we are collecting all information, so we know how much ivory we have at the moment.”

Without efforts like these, scenes like this would no longer exist… and experts warn the African elephant will go extinct.

Written and produced by: Ben Bamsey for “CNN Newsroom.”

elephant 3

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