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“The earth is not the earth without them.”
- So writes Michael Nichols, National Geographic photographer, speaking of elephants.
“If a species can be judged by its enemies, elephants deserve mercy on that account alone. Every bad actor in Africa and Asia has a hand in this (slaughter). Rarely will you find so much depravity converging on such innocence.” So wrote Matthew Scully in The Atlantic a few months ago.
“After ages in our midst, the most powerful of creatures and among the most gentle, so completely unoffending and yet so endlessly persecuted, now faces a final annihilation. Their extinction will be a joint venture, in essence, of the Beijing Ivory Carving Factory with the Janjaweed and Lord's Resistance Army. The common poacher has fallen in with the militant poacher, in service to unbridled human vanity. Avarice has allied with motives even more malevolent to finish them off, in a vast criminal enterprise that often uses their misery to fund still more atrocities against people, a great chain of greed from Sudan to Shanghai.”
Our mission is to stop this. We can, and we will.
The demand for ivory is growing. In China, the growth in demand is exponential and Africa’s elephants cannot meet the demand. Many Chinese believe elephants drop their tusks as deer do antlers. Hence, there’s no reason to feel guilty about the dead gentle behemoth whose face was chain-sawed off to make conspicuous consumption trinkets.
Governments in Africa have corrupt wildlife conservation officials and top government leaders in places such as Tanzania profit from the decimation of their herds of elephants. In Asia, corrupt officials protect smugglers and profit at several levels as illegal ivory is shipped through Hong Kong to be carved in Beijing and sold in Shanghai. There are reports of military officers in this chain of greed. We can shatter this chain through a combination of media exposure and government sanctions.
Here are steps to be taken to cleanse the world of this barbarity:
- End all commerce in ivory without exception.
- Raise public awareness of the extent of the global poaching crisis.
- Inform Chinese consumers that elephants don’t “drop” their tusks. They die delivering the “white gold.”
- Conduct an effective demand reduction media campaign in China.
- Reinforce anti-poaching capabilities of African states. Equip and train game wardens, strengthen surveillance and provide equipment to stop poachers, however well-armed.
- Encourage African states to enforce laws and increase poaching penalties.
- Use diplomacy and trade sanctions to enforce the anti-smuggling regimen.
- Name and shame government officials in Africa and Asia implicated in the global poaching and smuggling racket.
- Reinforce Interpol’s efforts to interdict smuggling.
- Impose significant costs on states that refuse to enforce anti-poaching laws and treaty obligations.
- In the US, communicate with officials in the State Dept., Fish and Game and the inter-agency
Presidential task force on poaching. Monitor progress, support efforts, and publicize failures.
These steps entail letter-writing, social media outreach, contact with local newspapers, outreach to TV stations, public meetings, demonstrations before consulates, embassies and tourist offices of offending states, and direct pressure on governments to raise the stakes for non-compliant actors.
This site will assist would-be wildlife activists in finding like-minded operatives, organizations worthy of support and activities that can use energy, investment and ideas to further their work.
The Gang of Eight
The treaty that protected elephants from 1989 through 2006 (when WWF urged approval of a “one-off” sale of Tanzanian ivory) is called CITES. In a recent meeting of the 180 signatory countries, eight nations were singled out as problem centers in the continued illegal trade in ivory:
Source countries Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania; transit countries Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines; and destination countries Thailand and China.
All face possible trade sanctions if they don’t clean up their act. Don’t hold your breath, unless we raise the temperature considerably.
Thailand makes noise about outlawing all ivory commerce. Nothing of substance has happened. Ditto Tanzania, possibly the most corrupted of the African states in the ivory game. Top government officials are implicated, Chinese worker camps are everywhere, and the country seems to have decided it can spare the Serengeti if a couple of fat cats cash their checks from Chinese smugglers. Tanzania has talked about mobilizing its military; they’ll be talking when the last elephant dies. Uganda has a history of working with Sudan, home of the Jangaweed who raid and kill across the entire continent. The less said about Sudan the better.
Vietnam and the Philippines are dependent on Western investment and commerce. Nauseatingly, the Philippines has a history of carving ivory into Catholic icons. The Pope, who speaks in favor of animal rights, might drop a dime of these jackasses. If he doesn’t, US importers should be pressured to act.
China is the big enchilada. They have another view of animals than many of us in the West. They are suddenly rich, and want to buy bling. They are unaware of the cost of their indulgence, and they don’t care. Their money buys lots of influence in Africa, and their military is probably involved in the smuggling trade. There has been no way to reach the higher levels of the Party and raise the stakes for continued extermination of elephants to feed the government-run ivory carving factories. I tried to convince the Longshoremen’s Union to shut the ports of the West Coast to Chinese boats knowing that would get their attention. Not going to happen, sadly. Trade sanctions would work. Tell that to WalMart. Top level entreaties might work. Do we have to wait for President Hillary to address this? Maybeso.
The Chinese now say they want to help the Africans patrol their animals better. That’s nice. It’s also a way to buy time to keep carving and selling. It points the finger in the wrong direction. Yes, this is an African problem, but the demand ain’t coming from Africa.
My primary work for the past year has been creating demand reduction advertisements for Chinese social media. I’m sure I’ve impacted hundreds. Now I’m starting to look into mobile phone ads, hoping to make short and extremely high-impact spots. Then I intend to push this priority through the State Dept. and the White House. We have to reach the Chinese one way or another.
A sensible first step is to clean up our own house. This is the strategy recommended by the Sheldrick Trust, and that’s why the Oct. 4th demonstrations don’t target Chinese embassies across the world. Let’s get ivory out of US stores and online emporia. Let’s shut down big game hunting here and in Britain, and across Europe. As we cleanse our own stables, let’s turn to the Chinese and challenge them to show us how to do this better. So the moderates advise.
It all seems so hard, so distant. The levers seem beyond our grasp. How can any of us impact a poacher from Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army or the Jangaweed, armed with an AK-47? How do we make the Chinese listen, or care? What can any of us do about smugglers working with corrupt officials in Mombasa?
Some shrug and despair. We could all just cover our ears. But some of us would still hear the elephants’ cries of terror and grief. Some of us would still picture the matriarchs as they fall beside their babies.
What are the stakes? Can’t we just weep and say goodbye to the elephant? Bye-bye, Barbar.
The scientists answer that the elephant is a keystone species. It disperses the seeds of all 36 varieties of trees that constitute the forests of central Africa. The paths made by the elephants are vital to all inhabitants of the region’s forests. And the ripples of their vital importance go on and on.
I’d say that if we don’t save the elephant, we will be unable to save our planet. This giant canary’s demise will signal our own end.
Dr. Laurie Merker of the Cheetah Foundation says, “To save the cheetah we must save the world.” She means that the solution is bigger than emergency salvage of a few members of the species. I’d give that a twist and say, to save the world we must save the elephant.
“A few experts, after years in the company of elephants interpret their sounds, trumpeting, rumbling, wailing. I claim no such knowledge of elephants, but I am certain of this. If one of those messages could reach us now, all of their well-wishers across the world, and we could put words to the sounds, the meaning would be as simple and universal as the recent message from the new Pope: Please, be our protectors. Please, deliver us from this evil.” - Matthew Scully, The Atlantic
"We need another and wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings, they are other Nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.”
- David Benton, from Dame Daphne Sheldrick
This site should serve as clearinghouse for information on elephant conservation activists with links to recommended partner wildlife conservation sites:
- David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust – cares for elephant orphans in Kenya
- Oakland Zoo – struggles to run an exemplary elephant program with educational outreach
- WildAid – is producing demand reduction spots in China; proceeds cautiously in the People’s Republic because they want to keep their access; has two documentaries about elephants and rhinos that they hope to finish, featuring Yao Ming
- Wildlife Conservation Network – runs an annual expo for all wildlife organizations; does public education outreach
- International Fund for Animal Welfare – also works on demand reduction
- African Wildlife Fund – of the big ones (including WWF), AWF tries the hardest to do research, create sustainable relationships on the ground in Africa, and support wildlife conservation officers in the field.
- Big Life Foundation – Heart in the right place, works on public education and liaises with all other organizations in the area.