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Elephants in the Okavango Delta, Botswana (19°26’ S, 23°03’ E).
African elephants (Loxondonta africana) cover many miles in their search for the 220 lb to 440 lb (100 kg to 200 kg) of vegetal food that they need every day. In single file, they follow the dominant female, communicating by movements of trunk and ears, by scent, touch, and a wide range of deep sounds that are beyond human hearing. Relentlessly hunted for their ivory, these animals are now in danger of extinction. Their population dwindled from 2.5 million in 1945 to 500,000 in 1989, when the ivory trade was banned. Today they number around 300,000, and are mainly concentrated in game reserves which are often too small to provide their food without ruining the ecosystems or the harvests of countries which are already suffering from malnutrition. Despite these hardships, eleven Central and West African countries have tried in vain to maintain a total ban on the ivory trade, in order to stop poaching and provide a joint solution to the problem of saving the elephants. The means used to control the ivory trade, however, are inadequate, and the resumption of international trade—even if it is restricted—has given the poachers free rein.