Monday, October 30, 2006

Elephants Cogitate

End the Ivory Trade! And the incarceration of elephants.

Elephants possess self-awareness
Happy the elephant recognises herself in a mirror.
Image: Diana Reiss/Wildlife Conservation Society.

Elephants possess self-awareness

SYDNEY: Elephants can recognise themselves in mirrors, an ability which gains them membership of the cognitive elite, U.S. researchers say.

"We report a successful MSR [mirror self-recognition] elephant study and report striking parallels in the progress of responses to mirrors among apes, dolphins and elephants," said the researchers. They report their findings today in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Mirror self-recognition is considered a sign of self-awareness which, until now, has been observed only in humans, apes and dolphins. These animals - as well as elephants - all have large brains, complex social systems and high intelligence levels.

"When CITES first banned the ivory trade in 1989, Africa's elephant population was 609,000 (down from 1.3 million in 1979). Now the most optimistic estimates are around 400,000 elephants. Losing elephants is an ecological disaster. Elephants are not just ornaments or tourist attractions; they disperse seeds, prune the trees and shape the land wherever they live, naturally." Ian Redmond, Born Free Wildlife Consultant and elephant expert

By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

Dead elephant   WWF-Canon/Martin Harvey
Poachers' victim in central Africa
A lively illegal trade in ivory is now flourishing in three populous states in West Africa, conservation groups say.

They found more ivory in Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Senegal than the countries' own elephant populations could produce.

The wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic and the global conservation group WWF say West Africa's vibrant ivory markets spur the poachers on.

They believe much of the ivory their teams found will have come from animals slaughtered by gangs in central Africa.

Any international ivory trade must be sanctioned by Cites, the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

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