EVERY now and then, the world has a unifying moment. A moment of a mass, shared sense of joy and inspiration, of determination and hope. The fall of the Berlin Wall was one; the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony was one. This, a weekend in 2015, might just have been another.
In cities around the globe, tens of thousands of people took to the streets with one shared aim – to save two of the planet’s largest and most fascinating species from extinction.
Many had travelled long distances to be there, had booked hotel rooms and cancelled social events for a march that they said it was a privilege to attend.
In London, an estimated 1,000 people walked to Downing Street to demonstrate to the Government the depth of their anguish at the annihilation of elephants and rhinos.
It was just one of 133 such events staged around the world, prompted by sheer outrage at the crisis in Africa, and counting that mass public opinion should force nations’ leaders to act.
This brings shame on our species, and the finger of history will point at China
The Global March for Elephants and Rhinos has attracted huge support even in many of the African countries where the animals are being shot, poisoned and snared – such as Chad, South Africa, Tanzania and Mozambique.
The species are being eradicated at an exponential rate, currently about one elephant every 15 minutes – nearly 100 a day. For rhinos, it’s about one every eight hours.
The crisis is a complex one that demands international action. As the rate of killing has risen, so the war in Africa between poaching gangs and wildlife-protection rangers is becoming increasingly sophisticated.
Charities such as the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and Action for Elephants are working exceptionally hard to halt the decline – but as speakers stressed, more must be done.
Nicky Campbell condemned the ‘tide of sheer unfathomable insanity’
At the London march, before handing over a letter to Downing Street, BBC Five Live presenter Nicky Campbell said the “relentless” slaughter brought shame on our species. “We are the most dangerous animals on Earth and among the least impressive,” he said.
To huge cheers, he went on: “If anyone ever says to you ‘what about people – human charities?’ just tell them ‘grow up’. Because people who come out with that glib, facile, sixth-form nonsense don’t realise this isabout humanity. It’s about what we’re doing to our fellow sentient creatures because right now we’re on the highway to hell.”
Outside the gates of Downing Street: 96 people were in elephant costumes, representing the 96 elephants killed every day
Finger of history will point at China
The high-profile radio and TV presenter said it sickened him when the Government sends missions to China begging for trade – “the great crawl of China”, he dubbed it.
“We have right on our side but we don’t have time on our side,” he said. China was finally accepting it was losing face over the issue (an ironic phrase).
“The finger of history will point at them and will be unforgiving,” he added.
Praising some in Government, such as Justine Greening, the International Development Secretary, he also condemned the Foreign Office and other people in power who, he said, don’t care about the killing and extinction of great wildlife.
Zac Goldsmith, the newly nominated Tory candidate for mayor of London, sent a message to the crowd, saying that humanity must do whatever was needed to stop the mindless butchery.
Strong messages of support also came from much-loved comedian Ricky Gervais, former foreign secretary William Hague, Dame Daphne Sheldrick, founder of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
Baby rhino cry
Stacey Gorman, 37, had travelled all the way from Manchester to London, having also attended the first two annual marches, last year and the year before, so strongly does she feel about poaching.
“I just love animals and they have a right to live – they shouldn’t be murdered,” she told The News Hub.
Her friend, Karen Page, 51, from Cheshunt, Herts, said:”It makes me angry we have to do this and sign petitions – the elected Government should be doing it on our behalf.”
Kerrie Malandreniotis, from Hampshire, was inspired to join the march by annual trips to South Africa, where she has seen the carcasses of poached rhinos.
“It’s devastating. The sound a baby rhino makes is a really pitiful cry. It gets to your soul.”
Dominic Dyer, of the Born Free Foundation, passionately condemned the ivory trade – and the world community, which paved the way for today’s slaughter by allowing African countries, back in the 1980s, to sell their stockpiles of ivory.
And branding canned hunting “disgusting”, he said there’s no creature on Earth, however endangered, that cannot be killed for money.
He called for the Government to spend more to halt the slaughter. Out of a foreign aid budget of billions, £5million-£10million is not enough to support poorly paid and poorly equipped rangers protecting the animals.
Mr Dyer called also for a ban, as promised in the Conservative manifesto, to end the trade in even antique ivory.
Nicky Campbell reminded crowds how elephants tenderly mourn loved ones that have died. Between now and his own end, he said, “I will fight and fight, and never give up” to end the butchery of these precious species that depend on the planet just as we do.
Jumbo facts and figures
The number of forest elephants in central Africa declined by 62% between 2002 and 2011, and some 100,000 elephants were poached between 2010 and 2012, according to Time magazine.
Research by Save The Elephants found that 100,000 elephants were killed between 2010 and 2012, and it may be significantly higher. A letter from Sir David Attenborough and many others to Chinese premier Xi Jinping said: “This is nothing short of catastrophic.”
In 1979 there were 1.3 million elephants. From 1979 to 1989 more than half the world’s elephant population was killed. This led to an ivory ban in 1989. At that time, there were only 600,000 left. A complete international ban on ivory sales was in effect from 1989 to 1997.
But in 2008 it became legal to sell ivory in China and demand rocketed, recently fuelled by China’s economic boom.
Between 2002 and 2011, numbers of remaining forest elephants fell by nearly two-thirds.
In 2012, only around 420,000 were left. Experts believe the number today is no higher than 400,000 and possibly as low as 250,000.
Estimates of the numbers killed each year range from 25,000 to 52,000 (a recent estimate by the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington).
Already elephants have been wiped out in Sierra Leone.
South Africa and India are home to the largest rhino populations in Africa and Asia.
The death toll of rhinos in South Africa escalated from 13 in 2007 to 1,215 last year, and already this year, at least 750 are thought to have been killed.
Between 2010 and 2014, at least 107 rhinos were shot dead by poachers in India.