Tomorrow, Aug. 12, the world will commemorate the fourth annual World Elephant Day, a milestone no one wants to celebrate: 15,000 to 20,000 elephants are being poached and killed every year. And these are just the ones we know about, according to the non-profit Nature Conservancy.
But what exactly is World Elephant Day? The Examiner wanted to find out so we arranged an interview with someone in charge, someone who’s spent huge amounts of time in the areas of Africa most gravely affected by this crisis and who is also aware of its other worldwide hot spots. China, for example, is having a tough time turning around the allure of poaching when unscrupulous parties still covet ivory and other elephant parts.
Conceived in 2011 by Canadian filmmakers Patricia Sims and Michael Clark of Canazwest Pictures and Sivaporn Dardarananda, Secretary-General of the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation in Thailand, World Elephant Day is now supported by several dozen wildlife organizations worldwide.
Prince William has made the cause internationally prominent, drawing attention to both the poaching crisis and efforts to combat it. David Banks, Africa Program Director, told us that the Duke has actually done quite a lot for the cause, both in Africa as well as elsewhere in the world where poaching for ivory is a huge problem.
“He’s significantly raised the profile of this issue in the US, where they love Prince William and the Royal family and what they stand for. He’s had some really good discussions with the Chinese government. He went to China and raised the profile, made an important speech there and put his own money [toward this]. Prince William and Prince Harry have both [done a great deal.]”
With WWD, Banks and the Nature Conservancy hope the crisis draws even greater attention. “And it’s been something others are using as well to raise the plight of elephants. Anything we can do to get people in the US more aware of what’s going on with elephants, and globally as well, such as in China. Unfortunately, people still don’t know that much [about what’s happening with elephants.]”
While the killing of Cecil the lion shone a spotlight on the decimation of precious wildlife generally, one cannot necessarily mix lions with elephants. Further, there is a difference between the sort of trophy killings such as Cecil fell victim to and what’s happening in the bush with poachers.
Working with other wildlife conservation groups, Nature Conservancy sends out “rangers” to try and tackle the massive problem, putting human lives in danger as they come up against life-threatening risks. There are many places in Africa where it’s more than just a noble goal to save elephant lives.
Banks says: “The worst places right now are in Southern Tanzania, in places like Chad, the Congo, Camaroon. Even parts of Zambia are being hit very hard, and the poachers tend to go where there’s a lot of elephants and it’s easiest to get them. When there is a high ranger presence, [or government involvement] we’re actually reversing the trend, so we know it can work [to try and stop the poaching.]”
If one wants to participate in World Elephant Day, the most obvious thing one can do is take to Twitter and spread the hash tag, #SaveElephants, but also, “These days it’s mostly a virtual thing. We’ll have a number of online efforts in order to raise the profile of the issue.” Further, what’s “pretty cool,” he says, is to create one’s own “elegram”. “We’re trying to get 20,000 elegrams, and if we hit that goal a donor will donate $150,000 to anti-poaching.” An elegram is a handmade picture of an elephant, however you envision it.
Banks lives stateside now, but worked for a long time in Africa. He is intimately familiar with this crisis. He shares that, “In parts of northern Kenya there’s been a lot of crime in the past, particularly in the northern part of Kenya, so you get guns that have infiltrated from Somalia, Ethiopia, and people are very poor, and when they’re very poor they result to extreme measures to get food – either robbing people on the road or holding up tourists, stealing people’s cows …or killing elephants.”
To find out more you can visit Worldelephantday, and to learn about the Nature Conservancy’s efforts, visit their website. Be sure to share your Twitter hashtag #Elegram for your elephant art. Follow the Nature Conservancy on Twitter tomorrow. You can also type the hashtags #WorldElephantDay, #SaveElephants and #Gogrey to show your support. Follow World Elephant Day on Instagram and Facebook, too. Tell all your friends. And never consider buying a piano made with ivory keys, a practice outlawed in the States.