By Dana Zakshevsky - Staff Writer
An overwhelming greed for ivory is leading to the rapid decline of a majestic creature: the African Elephant. While many people honor the animal with online videos, art, jewelry and even tattoos, poachers are killing elephants at an alarmingly high rate. If we don’t act fast, videos and art will be our only reminders of this beautiful species.
The situation is dire, but wildlife advocates around the world are working to preserve and protect the species. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “worth more alive,” meant to bring awareness to the rapid loss of animal populations which are being poached and hunted to the point of severe endangerment. “Worth more alive” means that these wonderful creatures are worth more than the price of their head mounted on a wall, or an ivory statuette on a mantelpiece. The people who don’t agree with this sentiment are often the ones who created and perpetuate the problem.
Rob Brandford, Executive Director of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, calls the issue a crisis. “Today we are facing a second elephant holocaust, (the first taking place in the 1970’s and 80’s). Driven by a rise in demand for ivory from Hong Kong and China, between 2010 and 2012, 100,000 elephants were killed for their tusks.” According to a study by National Geographic in 2015, the top five largest ivory-consuming countries are China, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and the United States. Simply stated, this is an issue of supply and demand. Unless the demand ends, we cannot guarantee the survival of the species.
Stopping the illegal ivory trade and ending poaching is a complex issue. “Massive poverty and inequity drives the demand for most poaching,” says Nick Lynch, a wildlife advocate who campaigns against Zimbabwean wildlife exports to China. He adds, “The bulk of poaching throughout Africa can be attributed to the desperate economic circumstances that grip rural communities and lack of alternative employment or ability to participate in meaningful commerce.” In Lynch’s opinion, “there is one absolute truth about poaching: the fate of the wildlife is inextricably tied to the fate of the people. You cannot solve the wildlife problems if you do not solve the people problems.”
There is some good news. While elephant populations are still largely decreasing in some countries, Kenya enacted The Wildlife Act in 2014. The law could be a game changer for many reasons, including enforcing stricter sentencing and deterrents to wildlife crime. It also encourages the public to help with the management of wildlife resources, thus strengthening the communities. Kenya is also using anti-poaching sniffer dogs and increased awareness to combat the problem. As a result, poaching has dropped in the country by 80%. “In Tsavo, where we work, we’re incredibly proud to have seen the unending and pioneering work of our Aerial Surveillance and Anti-Poaching Teams lead to a 50% drop in poaching since 2012,” says Brandford.
So what can you do to help? According to Brandford, “We’re at the tipping point, which could determine the future survival of the species. Everyone can do something by raising awareness of the poaching crisis, and by raising funds to help those who are able to make even a small difference at the field level to protect and preserve the elephants.”
How can you help?
- Sign the petition and call for a ban on all ivory at: www.iworry.org.
- Foster an orphaned elephant in care at www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org and become a part of their foster family, providing vital funds for the care of the elephants, wider Anti-Poaching and Veterinary projects.
- Find out more about the great work they do at: www.facebook.com/thedswt; www.instagram.com/dswt; www.twitter.com/dswt