See link for photos and video
Over the past several months, the confiscation of several large shipments of ivory has once again shed light on the troubling persistence of both illegal wildlife trafficking and demand for ivory—a collective tragedy that costs the lives of more than 32,000 elephants every year.
Ivory has long been prized for its beauty and durability, and as incomes around the world have risen, so, too, has the demand for ivory—most of which ends up in Asian markets where it gets worked into jewelry or figurines and sold to increasingly affluent customers in countries like Thailand and China. To satisfy the growing appetite for ivory, traffickers increasingly are relying on aggressive poaching tactics—and poaching and trafficking have largely become the province of sophisticated, militarized networks of organized crime. These include terrorist organizations such as the Lord’s Resistance Army, who are using the sale of illegal ivory to support terrorist activities.
While new technologies like elephant GPS tracking collars and isotope testing have shown great promise in helping us more effectively combat poaching and convict poachers once they are caught, it’s clear that one of the simplest things we can do to stop the killing of elephants is to reduce consumer demand for ivory by stigmatizing its purchase.
Thanks to the coordinated efforts of a consortium of Clinton Global Initiative members called the Elephants Action Network, we are working hard to do just that. Together, the partner organizations have pledged to coordinate their efforts across three pillars of action to: stop the killing of elephants, stop the trafficking of their tusks and stop the demand for their ivory.
In China, for example, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) launched an intensive campaign designed to build political will for elephant conservation and make the consumption of ivory socially unacceptable. As part of their pre-campaign effort,IFAW conducted a survey of consumers driving the trade. The results were surprising—70% of Chinese customers weren’t aware that ivory came only from dead elephants, that there was no ‘safe’ way to take ivory from elephants. Through extensive media partnerships, IFAW’s public outreach campaign has successfully reached hundreds of millions of Chinese television viewers with the tragic facts around ivory.
Save the Elephants, in partnership with WildAid, has also been working in China to educate consumers about the consequences of buying ivory through high profile media campaigns featuring Chinese basketball star, Yao Ming, and actress Li Bingbing. Through billboard advertisements, televised public service announcements (PSAs) and social media platforms, this campaign has also raised overall awareness in China of the poaching crisis. A 2014 survey highlights that of those who viewed the PSAs, 90 percent agreed they will not purchase ivory as a result.
Closer to home, the “96 Elephants” campaign, launched by the Wildlife Conservation Society, is dedicated to stopping the slaughter of elephants by raising awareness among American consumers and pressing for the passage of tighter restrictions on the sale of ivory within the United States. We have to be part of the solution too.
In addition, governments around the world have partnered with members of the Action Network to organize ivory crushes in their countries—high profile events around destroying ivory stockpiles that remove them from the marketplace, and send a clear message that violence against elephants will no longer be tolerated. According to the most recent Ivory Crush Update from 96 Elephants, fourteen nations have crushed or burned more than 300,000 pounds of ivory since 1989—most recently on June 19th, 1500 people stood by to witness the destruction of 2,000 pounds of ivory in Times Square in New York City.
With almost 100 elephants killed for their tusks each day, there’s still a lot of work to be done to secure the safety and wellbeing of these majestic animals, but recent news gives us hope that that reversing their decline is well within reach.
In June, China announced that it intended to end the legal processing and sale of ivory—a practice that has, unfortunately, also provided cover for illegal ivory imports, as well. While it is not yet clear how quickly China will act, the announcement signals an important shift in government policy and in the commitment of the next generation to play a part in a better future.
And just last month, in July, President Obama proposed new regulations that would prohibit the sale of ivory across state lines and strengthen existing policies on commercial imports. As the second largest market for poached ivory, the United States has long suffered from legislative and regulatory loopholes that have been exploited by traffickers. If adopted, the new regulations will do a great deal to close these loopholes and reinforce ivory bans enacted by individual states like New York and New Jersey.
The data shows that we are making progress. Last year, for the first time since this most recent elephant crisis began, elephant births exceeded the number of deaths. It’s cause for celebration, but in this fragile equation, continued education is key. As the success of prior campaigns—such the Dolphin-Safe Tuna campaign—have shown, most people want to do the right thing for our wildlife, but we need to continue to talk about the facts so that people can make informed decisions and support their intentions.