Last month, INTERPOL arrested more than 100 people and seized more than 2 tons of illegal ivory in the largest-ever transnational operation targeting wildlife crime across Africa. It’s hard to believe that just 20 years ago, a global uproar secured a sweeping ban on the international ivory trade. But today, there’s no doubt about it — the ivory trade is booming.
According to Dr. Samuel Wasser of the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington, “elephants are being killed by poachers at a rate of 10 percent per year. With only 470,000 elephants left in the world, it means that in just a few years the only elephants left will live in small populations behind fences with armed guards.”
Wasser, who spent three decades in Africa, works with INTERPOL, using his pioneering methods of wildlife forensics — matching DNA from elephant dung to DNA from confiscated ivory to map elephant poaching hotspots.
In Fall 2010, Wasser will be able to complete his map by joining forces with The Elephant Ivory Project, a team of National Geographic Explorers and conservation filmmakers, who will venture to the Democratic of Congo to collect DNA samples from elephants in the remote African jungle. The notoriously unstable country is considered too dangerous and for researchers to travel, but the Elephant Ivory Project is up for the challenge.
“I hope to address the two largest issues affecting elephants by going into the jungle with a backpack full of camera gear to document the herds and leaving the jungle with a backpack full of elephant poop to complete the DNA map,” Trip Jennings of The Elephant Ivory Project said. “It’s shocking to realize that an average of 105 elephants are being killed by poachers everyday, but it’s not hopeless. In 1989, with a global upwelling of support, the ivory trade was stopped, nearly overnight. We can do that again.”
The team hopes to use the expedition to educate the U.S. and beyond by producing video, television and print media on the current situation of African elephants and urge leaders and the public to stop elephant poaching.
Jennings and the team are fully aware of the danger of this expedition — this will be their second trip to the Congo.
When Trip Jennings was in the Democratic Republic of the Congo last year, two soldiers armed with AK-47s held him and his fellow kayakers at gunpoint. The crew packed up and paddled away on the Lower Congo River with the guns pointed at their backs.
“It was terrifying,” says the 27-year-old.
So, naturally, Jennings is going back…
Having already secured a $10,000 National Geographic Channel grant, the team is heading into next year with a lot of momentum. But they still have to raise $50,000 more for their expedition. To donate and to learn more about what you can do to save elephants, visit The Elephant Ivory Project website.