The sombre probability is that by the end of this century few large land animals will survive in the wild. Especially at risk is the African elephant, which is now critically endangered. It is the elephant’s misfortune to possess a commodity worth (at current black market rates) $1,500 a pound. Keith Somerville’s book is an account of the part played by ivory in African history and a detailed survey of the African elephant from the end of the colonial era. It makes grim reading.
Pre-colonial African elephant numbers have been estimated at 26 million. The first pan-African survey, in 1979, found that there were just 1.3 million of them – a pretty damning indictment of mankind’s rapacity. During the 1980s elephants were lost to ivory poaching at such a rate that by