Babar, king of the elephants, the delight of generations of children, is endangered, but not by the rhinoceroses with whom his elephant kingdom perpetually fought. In fact both the elephants and the rhinoceroses in Africa are endangered by poachers who kill them-the elephants for tusks, and the rhinos for horns.
The precarious survival of the African elephant is the subject of an upcoming program, "Deep River and the African Elephant," sponsored by the Deep River Historical Society, the Deep River Rotary Club, and the town of Deep River on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 9 and 10.
Deep River and neighboring Ivoryton were once the center of the ivory trade in the United States, processing up to 90 percent of the ivory imported to this country into everything from ladies combs to piano keys. Pratt, Read & Company in Deep River and Comstock, Cheney & Company in Ivoryton were the major manufacturers involved.
"Deep River was built on dead elephants," said Nancy Cohn, vice chair of the upcoming program.
Peter Howard is the chairperson, and with Charlotte Lazor the other vice chair.
Today, a newly prosperous China, where ivory carving is both an ancient and a thriving craft, has stimulated the rapidly growing demand for elephant tusks. A recent shipment of 1,148 illegal tusks impounded in Hong Kong, weighing some 4,800 pounds, was worth an estimated $2.25 million.
Those prices have fueled the elephant killings. In the past two months 100 elephants have been killed by cyanide poisoning in Hwange National Park in Zambia. In Kenya, as of the end of this September, 232 elephants had been slaughtered. Last year the total was 384. Recently, a member of Tanzania's parliament estimated that 30 elephants a day were being killed in the country's wildlife sanctuaries.
In addition, newspaper reports have asserted that terrorists groups like the Somalian al-Shabaab, responsible for the recent attack on the Westwood Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, get up to 40 percent of the money for their operation through the slaughter of elephants for the illegal ivory trade.
The current situation in Africa and the worldwide ivory trade will be highlighted in presentations at the upcoming program in Deep River. Speakers on Saturday will include Paula Kuhumbu. executive director of Wildlife Direct, a Kenya-based organization to promote animal conservation founded by wildlife advocate and anthropologist Richard Leakey.
Kuhumbu "is deeply involved," said Cohn. "If there are no elephants, it deeply impacts the tourist industry in Kenya. People come to see the wildlife."
Other participants on Nov. 9 include Brenda Milkofsky, formerly senior curator at the Connecticut River Museum; Congressman Joe Courtney; and Dan Ashe, director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
On Sunday, the program will include the showing of a National Geographic film, Battle for the Elephants, at Deep River Town Hall. The film is not recommended for children younger than 10 years of age.
In conjunction with the film, there will also be a rededication of the Deep River Rotary Club's elephant sculpture at the front of Town Hall. According to Cohn, there was a plaque that was supposed to be affixed to the statue when it was put in place, but that was never done. Now, she said, the plaque will be added.
Also on Sunday at 3:15 p.m. there will be an exhibit and judging of elephant-themed essays and art projects by John Winthrop Middle School and Valley Regional High School students. Ruth Levy, superintendent of Regional District 4, said that among the artwork is an elephant constructed from old piano parts.
Deep River's program is part of a worldwide effort to save elephants. In September, Hillary Clinton announced an $80 million, three-year program to help stamp out elephant poaching as a part of the Clinton Global Initiative.
Former NBA star Yao Ming has teamed with several African wildlife preservation foundations as well as his own foundation to launch a campaign to inform the Chinese about the elephant slaughter that their demand for ivory has created. With soccer star David Beckham and Prince William, Yao has made two public service announcements to air globally on reducing the demand not only for ivory but also for rhinoceros horn.
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio announced in 2012 that he had joined with the International Fund For Animal Welfare to promote an anti-poaching and ivory smuggling campaign with the title Elephants Never Forget.
There is a $20 charge for the weekend program, with part of the proceeds going to benefit Save the Elephants, an alliance of a number of world wildlife organization formed with the support of the Clinton global Initiative.