Clinton’s little-known crusade to save Africa’s elephants


Jeremy Hance, The Guardian

Date Published


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When asked by Ellen DeGeneres what her spirit animal is, Hillary Clinton had a surprising answer: the elephant.

Although the symbol of the GOP, Clinton spoke on the Ellen DeGeneres Show this May with rare passion about the need to protect real elephants from a poaching crisis that has killed at least 110,000 of them over the past decade, pushing the world’s largest land animals – especially forest elephants – closer to extinction.

“I love the way…the matriarch of the family looks for everybody, I just have such a sense of connection to elephants and it just breaks my heart that they are being poached and murdered and babies being left to fend for themselves,” Clinton said on a portion of the show that only aired on Facebook.

Clinton’s affinity for elephants is not widely known or reported. But during her tenure as Secretary of State in the Obama Administration, she helped bring the issue of global wildlife trafficking out of obscurity.

“International criminal syndicates are orchestrating the slaughter of many of the world’s iconic wildlife species and profiteering by marketing ivory, rhinoceros horn, and other wildlife parts in the U.S., Asia, and Europe,” said Jorge Silva, a spokesperson for the Clinton Campaign. “Many of the criminal syndicates have ties with, and are helping to fund, terrorist groups around the world, and also are engaged in human, drug, and arms trafficking.”

Experts believe that groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army, Al-Shabaab and even ISIS may be in part funded by the illicit sale of ivory and other wildlife parts.

Clinton’s personal love for elephants springs out of a trip to Tanzania in 1997 as first lady. Her daughter, Chelsea, accompanied her, and since then mother and daughter have shared a passion for pachyderms. During the period, Bill Clinton’s administration opposed any opening of the ivory trade. Despite this, Cites began approving one-off trades in elephant ivory in 1999, 2002 and 2008. Experts have linked the current poaching crisis to the approval of these trades, especially the last one.

Clinton has also worked to combat elephant poaching through the family’s foundation. In 2013, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton brought together various conservation groups to partner on a new $80 million programme to fight elephant poaching through the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI).

Silva said that if elected president Clinton would amp up the fight against the illegal wildlife trade.

“[She will] forge partnerships with the private sector and non-profit community to shut down the U.S. market for illegal wildlife products; deploy U.S. intelligence and enforcement assets to catch and imprison the kingpins that are controlling this multi-billion dollar criminal enterprise; raise the legal penalties for illegal wildlife traffickers; and impose trade sanctions when appropriate on nations that fail to crack down on the illegal killing and marketing of wildlife and wildlife products.”

Such a global crackdown may be necessary to save the world’s largest land animals from extinction. This year, the Great Elephant Census – a thorough, groundbreaking survey across 18 countries – found that populations of savanna elephants have fallen by 30% in just seven years. The news was even worse than many conservationists feared. But the situation is even more dire for forest elephants.

Inhabiting the thick jungles of Central and WestAfrica, forest elephants are more difficult to survey. But last year, scientists estimated that 65% of forest elephant have been slaughtered for their ivory since 2003. A number of recent studies have also argued that forest elephants are indeed a distinct species based on genetic, physical and behavioral differences.

The Trump campaign did not respond to repeated requests for its position on elephant conservation or the global wildlife trade, but its website mentions neither. This is not surprising given the website lists very few positions regarding any environmental issues, including making no mention of climate change – although Donald Trump has claimed that climate change was a hoax invented by the Chinese.

In 2012, media leaked photos of Donald Trump’s sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, taken during a big game hunt safari in Zimbabwe. In one image, Donald Trump Jr. stands next to an elephant he shot to death and holds up its severed tail. Cutting off an elephant’s tail is traditional in some African cultures where the hair is made into a bracelet.

A longtime trophy hunter, Donald Trump Jr. has stated that he would be interested in working in the Department of the Interior if his father is elected president.

“The way our society treats animals is a reflection of our humanity,” reads the Clinton campaign website. If elected president, Clinton also promises further action on wildlife and animal rights issues such as combating the overuse of antibiotics in farm animals, eliminating the consumption of horses and toughening regulations on puppy mills.