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Saving the elephants

THE AFRICAN ELEPHANT: Last Days of Eden, by Boyd Norton, foreword by Richard Leakey, Voyageur Press, $27.95.

ELEPHANTS: The Deciding Decade, edited by Ronald Orenstein, introduction by Richard Leakey, Sierra Club Books, $35.

THE AFRICAN ELEPHANT: Twilight in Eden, A National Audubon Society Book by Roger L. DiSilvestro, foreword by Richard Leakey, John Wiley & Sons, $34.95.

THE ELEPHANT BOOK, by Ian Redmond, preface by Daphne Sheldrick, The Overlook Press, $16.95.

All of these books include impressive photographs of the African elephant, the world's largest land animal. They all also carry an ominous warning: The days of this magnificent creature may be numbered.

Next month the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) will meet in Kyoto, Japan, to consider the elephant's fate. Five African countries _ South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Malawi and Namibia _ are asking the organization, which has 112 member nations, to allow a controlled trade in ivory and elephant hides and skins.

Between 1979 and 1989 poaching for the ivory trade reduced Africa's elephant population from an estimated 1.3-million to 609,000, says Richard E. Leakey, director of Kenya's Department of Wildlife, who contributed introductions to three of these books. CITES' ban on ivory trade in October, 1989 put a brake on that slaughter, but two years have not been enough time to restore the elephant herds, say conservative groups. Britain is opposed to removing the elephant from the endangered species list while the United States is in favor of downlisting the animal and thus allowing trade in elephant skin and meat.

"Unless we give the remaining herds complete protection from those seeking to kill them, all that will remain of the elephant in this world will indeed be their coveted ivory tusks," says the Friends of Animals. The Connecticut-based group is urging people to call the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, the Hon. Manual Lujan, at (202) 208-3100 or write him at 1849 C St. NW MS6217, Washington D.C. 20240, to protest the U.S. position.

"Don't buy, wear, display, or sell ivory," says Leakey. "You can also help by learning about elephants and passing on what you know to your friends."

These books are a good start. Half the royalties of The Elephant Book go to Elefriends, an international conservation movement dedicated to the protection of the world's remaining elephant herds. As Bill Travers of Elefriends puts it: "Until we recognize what the real treasures of the world are, until we learn to share this Earth with all its other inhabitants, we will find only temporary happiness."

_ Margo Hammond

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