To crave ivory is to crave death, warns Born Free actress


Jerome Starkey, The Times (London)

Date Published

The actress and conservationist Virginia McKenna has urged Anglican and Catholic leaders to tell their devotees that to crave ivory is to “crave death”.
The 82-year-old, who played Joy Adamson in the 1966 film Born Free, is the latest conservationist to warn that demand for legal and illicit ivory threatens to make the elephant extinct. In the Philippines, Catholics use elephant tusk to make religious artefacts and the new middle classes in China are fuelling demand for ivory trinkets.

“Anyone who is in a position of influence, whether it’s the Church, politicians or leaders of society, you have to persuade all those people that seem to crave these little bits of carved teeth, that what they crave is a piece of death,” McKenna told The Times.
Although it was a lion cub called Elsa that first brought her to Kenya when she played Adamson, it was an elephant she met in 1968 that led her to set up an animal charity and devote her life to conservation.

The United States, which was the second largest ivory market in the world, announced a ban on domestic sales this month. McKenna said it was time for Britain to follow suit.
“There are markets in London awash with ivory for sale. That’s got to stop,” she said. “Whether it belonged to great aunt Mary and has sentimental value, the sentimental value of a little piece of ivory is nothing compared to the sentimental value of an elephant’s life.
“You can have a piece of marble. There’s tons of things to carve.
Elephants are living art.”
McKenna starred alongside her late husband Bill Travers, who played the game warden George Adamson in the film about a lioness that is reared by people and released into the wild.

It was not until they returned to Kenya in 1968 to film An Elephant Called Slowly, that they met the twoyear-old elephant called Pole Pole, which eventually changed their lives. There were more than 35,000 elephants in Tsavo, where the film was shot. Today there are 11,000.
“It’s a click of the fingers in time, but if it goes on like this there will be no elephants left in the wild,” McKenna said. “Is that what we want to do to our great-grandchildren? What a shameful thing to do to the world.”
In parts of central Africa the slaughter has been far worse, activists fear, but it often goes unchecked.
According to the iWorry campaign, an elephant is poached in Africa every 15 minutes and unless more is done to control the scourgte the animals will be wiped out in the wild by 2025.

Pole Pole’s death in 1983 inspired the couple to launch Zoo Check, which later became the Born Free Foundation.
McKenna, who has 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, said she feared her descendants might never know the privilege of living in the wilderness that the Adamsons knew. “It feels even more special now, because it’s getting more difficult to find unspoilt environments.”