When the buying stops, the killing can too.
On World Animal Day, October 4th, demonstrators in 21 cities across the globe will gather to voice their outrage at the continued slaughter of elephants and rhinos.
From Pretoria & Nairobi to Rome, from San Francisco and New York to London, people will march to protest continued trade in ivory and to urge local and national governments to shut down every vestige of ivory commerce while pressuring those who resist to comply with the will of the world.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, protectors of orphaned baby elephants, called these demonstrations. Participating cities have grown in number from nine cities to 21 in two weeks.
It has been estimated that 35,000 elephants died in 2012 to supply the ivory trade.
Most conservationists agree that the number will be greater in 2013. According to Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants, 7% of all remaining wild elephants in Africa died last year at the hand of poachers. The percentage will be bigger this year.
This means that in a decade, the elephant, the keystone species and icon of Africa, could be extinct in the wild. People across the globe are awakening to this threat.
The demand fueling this mad rush for “bloody teeth” or “white gold” is primarily Chinese. The price of ivory is over $1300 a pound before being carved in Beijing. There are other players who trade in ivory, including the United States, but China represents more than 70% of global demand, and 90% of intercepted illegal shipments of ivory are headed to China.
The Chinese government denies any culpability, refraining from energetically enforcing their laws against illegal traffic in ivory. They say that it’s a problem for African nations to solve through better policing. There is ample evidence of local corruption and connivance by African officals.
Here’s how the smuggling trade operates:
In Tanzania, 30 elephants a day are killed as the Serengeti is emptied of mega-fauna. A million Chinese workers are spread across the country.
The way smuggling works is that an “order” is placed, sometimes with the Jangaweed or Lord’s Resistance Army. An elephant matriarch and her sisters (and often her small children) are dispatched by machine gun. Their faces are hacked off, sometimes while they’re still alive. And the ivory is delivered to a Chinese work camp.
There, it is hidden and readied for shipment to Dar es Salaam—in the port town, the ivory is concealed in a shipment of coffee or lumber with false documentation. Most of these smuggled shipments make it to Hong Kong, often passing through Singapore first.
In Hong Kong, a corrupt official takes over, receiving a far larger payment than the poachers, and passes the goods on to carving factories in Beijing or Shanghai. The carved ivory turns up as bracelets, statues, earrings and the like for display in fancy showrooms in the big cities of China. In the glittering showrooms for the newly wealthy, the future of the African elephant ends.
There are eight countries that have been identified as the main suppliers, shippers and consumers of smuggled ivory; under the CITES treaty (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) that is supposed to protect endangered animals, these countries have a duty to reform their behavior or face trade sanctions. The CITES treaty has proven toothless for the past half decade.
A strongly worded memorandum will not save the elephant or the rhino.
We must act locally in our own nations to root out illegal ivory—we have work to do at home before we turn to the rest of the global bad actors and compel them to adhere to agreed standards.
The campaign to reduce demand for ivory is an important part of this struggle. Reaching behind the Great Firewall, WildAid has produced broadcast ads with Yao Ming that call for an end to ivory and rhino horn purchases.
The David Sheldrick Trust has worked with Multisensory Interactive Learning, to create wordless high impact spots delivered to social media.
We need to teach that elephants don’t drop their tusks and call for an end to ivory purchases—these efforts will continue and grow. But in the meantime, as we “think globally” there’s a vital need to act locally:
1. Find the anti-poaching demonstration near you on Facebook. (There are many web pages that list them, including www.iworry.org, the anti-poaching site of the Sheldrick Trust.)
2. Get involved. Raise your voice. Add your ideas to the mix.
The answer isn’t to shrug and let the elephant pass into the mists of greed and cruel indifference—the fate of the mightiest land mammal is literally in our hands and there is action to be taken.
Marty Perlmutter has worked in interactive media and TV for four decades. He’s produced interactive games, educational programming and museum exhibits. A focus of this work has been communicating abstract ideas without relying on words. Perlmutter applied these techniques to public service campaigns on youth voter registration, water conservation and drug abuse. Last year, Marty decided to use video and social media to combat the poaching of elephants in Africa. In partnership with the Sheldrick Trust, Perlmutter produced a dozen spots that were placed on the other side of the Great Firewall in China. Working with a graduate class at Academy of Art University, another dozen spots were recently completed. Marty is working with the San Francisco group planning October 4th demonstrations; he continues work on the social media campaign in China, and plans to begin distribution of spots in the US as part of the elimination of ivory commerce in North America. Perlmutter is president of the education nonprofit, the Multisensory Interactive Learning Institute (MILI).