Standing in its shadows provided me with an adequate amount of shade from the scorching sun – a necessary relief after spending a whole day on an outdoor adventure. I craned my neck upwards, attempting to locate the top of its head by visually tracing a soft outline of an ear upwards. Majestic. I only rarely use this word, but it was the only one capable of describing its presence. I felt the smallest I ever did in my life.
This elephant was beautiful and terrifying at the same time – beautiful, because of its grace, terrifying because of its potential. Its tusks, curved outwards and upwards in a relaxed parabola shape, spanning for the length of at least 6 feet. Its tusks, thick and prominent at the base, narrowed down to two blunted, rounded points. But its tusks, off white in color, were also self-destructive – the sole reason poachers and wildlife traffickers kill 96 African elephants a day.
Ivory, sometimes referred to as “the white gold of Jihad”, is the highly sought after prize. The public demand for products made of ivory (such as trinkets or decorative cravings) has drastically reduced the elephant population from 1,200,000 to 420,000 over the course of 3 decades. By 1989, the commercial trade of ivory was banned, but killing slowed only temporarily. Illegal poaching and wildlife trafficking is still the fourth largest transnational crime, in part because it allows notorious terrorist groups to fund their military operations. Unfortunately, the market also continues to thrive across the globe, including here in the United States.
In order to stop this from continuing, we need to reduce the demand for ivory products. Many people have unwanted ivory trinkets and have donated them for destruction so that ivory will not end up on the market again. In fact, according to the Elephant Trade Information System, 41 tons of ivory were seized in 2014. The popular PBS series, Antiques Roadshow, has also stopped the on air appraisals of antique ivory, in order to stop sending the wrong message to the American public that ivory is both valuable and profitable.
But while both of these accomplishments are steps in the right direction, there is still much more to be done. The Wildlife Conservation Society is currently in the midst of its “96 Elephants” campaign – a nationwide initiative to protect and save the African elephants. Since its launch, more that 110 Associations of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) institutions have agreed to sign onto this event and now, you can join too. Check out the “96 Elephants” website to sign the petition, advocate the cause and join the over 200,000 people who have already pledged to not buy or sell ivory. The website even provides an “advocacy toolkit” complete with petition sheets and talking points to guide you. Help stop the sale and distribution of ivory today.