World Elephant Day highlights grim plight of majestic creatures


By Joanne Richard, Toronto Sun

Date Published
The same week Cecil the famous lion was murdered, a mother elephant in Kenya and her four offspring were also brutally slaughtered, their tusks hacked out of their faces.

Senseless barbarity and human greed threaten these magnificent creatures to the point of extinction – all for just trinkets and trophies.

Global initiatives are bringing attention to the grim plight of Asian and African elephants, including the fourth annual World Elephant Day, which is being held tomorrow, Aug. 12, in an effort to provide a powerful global voice for elephants and help ensure their survival.

They face devastation – sobering research shows today alone 100 elephants will be illegally killed. “Each year, approximately 30,000 African elephants are slaughtered to supply the illegal ivory trade that feeds an insatiable demand for ivory in consumer markets in China, Thailand, and many other countries including the USA and the UK,” says Patricia Sims, a Canadian filmmaker and co-creator of World Elephant Day –

Her new documentary, When Elephants Were Young, is a human-elephant conservation story that explores the complexities of the elephants’ plight at a critical time. “It is estimated that at the current rate of poaching and habitat loss, there will be no more wild elephants left on the planet in less than 30 years.”

Her feature-length documentary, narrated by William Shatner, focuses on conservation education, and the interrelationships between humans and animals in our changing world. The film follows the life of a young man and young elephant in Thailand.

Sims says that the profound nature of our relationship with elephants in many ways mirrors our relationships with each other. “It is my hope that this story will inspire audiences to take action in whatever way they can, for the conservation of elephants, wildlife, and wild habitat,” says Sims.

“They are intelligent, empathetic and highly social, they’re always taking care of one another – and may be more like us than any other animal. They have many of the attributes that we humans strive to have ourselves – or should strive to have!” says Sims, who is based in British Columbia.

Elephants exhibit the best human traits – the same can’t be said for humans. Our heartlessness and apathy is rampant: “It could be because we are ignorant of the true interconnectivity of nature, and the role of all life within nature. We are ignorant of the sentience of other living things. We must ask ourselves, what is our role in nature, what is the role of the human on Earth?”

In the When Elephants Were Young story, Sims portrays one positive conservation model in Thailand that provides hope for the future of Asian elephants in Thailand. “It is a good example of what can be done, when there is a concerted effort to protect habitat to ensure that elephants and other wildlife can survive.”

She adds that so many people around the world love elephants but aren’t aware that elephants are in crisis.

The best thing we can do is to not purchase ivory products, even those that appear to be legal, says Sheryl Fink, spokesperson for IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare). “Remember that all ivory ultimately comes from a dead elephant: if we don’t buy, they don’t die.”

Fink says that “the illegal wildlife trade is one of the world’s most lucrative criminal activities, valued at about $25 billion CAD annually. A 2014 study reported that 100,000 elephants were killed by poachers in just three years.”

An elephant is killed every 15 minutes for its ivory, says Fink. Tomorrow on World Elephant Day, IFAW will post a tweet and a picture of an elephant every 15 minutes – 96 in all – on @action4ifaw to commemorate the daily toll of elephants killed for their ivory. Share the hashtag #every15minutes

Now in its fourth year, World Elephant Day has more than 50 countries involved, as well as more than 65 elephant conservation organizations,