Thirty seconds, give or take.
That is approximately how long I was able to listen to an audio recording of poachers shooting an elephant to death in Gabon before I had to hit my laptop’s mute button.
Released on YouTube on Nov. 20, the recording is part of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s "96 Elephants" anti-poaching campaign, which takes its name from the daily rate at which the pachyderms are butchered in Africa.
Terrifying as it is, the recording began innocently enough. Earlier this year, researchers from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Elephant Listening Project left remote recording devices in the forests of Gabon as part of a project to study pachyderm communication. It was only after the recorders were retrieved months later that the scientists realized the horrifying sounds they had captured.
These are end times for elephants.
Since 1980, the species’ numbers have plummeted 76 percent, with poachers now slaughtering 35,000 animals per year. The poaching spike is attributed to exponential demand for ivory trinkets by China’s emerging middle class. These consumers view ivory as a status symbol and are willing to pay up to $1,300 per kilo to acquire it. The epidemic is so severe that conservationists predict African elephants could be extinct in the wild by 2025.
“The elephant poaching crisis in Africa is the most urgent threat to biodiversity on the continent today,” James Deutsch, WCS executive director for Africa programs, told Discovery earlier this year.
If this audio recording is any indication, I’d add another qualifier to Deutsch's statement: "most gut-wrenching."