Two of the largest animals that walk on land – elephants and rhinos – are in crisis. Their very existence in the latter part of the 21st century is in doubt.
In the past three years alone, more than 100,000 elephants have been killed. That’s an average of one dead elephant every 15 minutes due to poaching. This figure is in addition to unprecedented habitat loss due to increased human development. In the last century alone, elephants have completely disappeared from three countries in Africa.
We are at a tipping point, with more elephants being killed than being born each year. We are approaching that same tipping point with the rhino as well.
Statistics released recently by South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs reveal rhino poaching has hit record levels in South Africa, with a shocking 1,020 of the animals poached for their horn to date in 2014. Nearly 350 people have been arrested in connection with crimes related to rhino poaching.
Philip Mansbridge, UK director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), said: ‘The poaching crisis is a tragedy unfolding across Africa. But the solutions do not rest solely in the hands of people in Africa and their governments; it is a problem that we all need to address if we are to protect these animals for future generations.’
Due to a burgeoning demand for their tusks and horns, these magnificent creatures are killed indiscriminately in their native habitat to fuel far-flung markets for ivory and traditional medicines. Most of it is smuggled out of Africa through powerful crime syndicates to Asia.
Recognising that China is one of the world’s largest consumers of wildlife products, from elephant ivory and shark fin to tiger bone and rhino horn, IFAW’s China office has created campaign messages that are culturally appropriate, politically sensitive and socially motivating to dispel myths and change buying behaviour and attitudes.
In recent weeks, we kicked off a media blitz of Chinese cultural icons, or so-called Key Opinion Leaders, who have signed on to support IFAW’s campaign ‘Give Peace to Elephants; Say No to Ivory’. The 12 individuals include prominent artists, media personalities, businesspeople and a religious leader, and they will appear in advertisements across the country in the coming months.
Data shows these kinds of campaigns do make a difference. A campaign evaluation conducted in 2013 by Rapid Asia showed that IFAW’s messages effectively penetrated 75% of the urban Chinese population and lowered the proclivity to buy ivory from 54% to 26% in certain consumer segments identified as high risk. IFAW’s survey also indicated that many former ivory purchasers would not buy ivory again if it were illegal to do so.
Because the US is believed to be the second largest market for ivory, we have campaigned for policy changes to close loopholes in the domestic ivory ban.
IFAW has also engaged with celebrities – musicians, actors, and other personalities – in the US to speak out about the elephant crisis and the nation’s implications in worldwide demand. The US government is expected to make some important decisions on the topic in early 2015 and many nations are expected to meet to debate the issue of wildlife trade, particularly in relation to elephants, rhinos and tigers, at an international summit in Botswana in March next year, as they did earlier this year in London.
IFAW urges politicians across the world to continue to come together on this issue and to support policies that will result in real protection for these threatened species.
Last month, we were pleased to see media, politicians and public sit up and take notice when we revealed the findings of our new investigation into the global online trade in wildlife products ‘Wanted – Dead or Alive’.
The report details the true and shocking scale of the trade in 16 countries, including the UK. After many months of global scoping, it showed that in just a six-week period there were 33,006 examples of endangered wildlife and wildlife parts and products offered for sale via 280 online marketplaces, with a total value of around £7m ($11million â‚¬9million).
Mansbridge added: ‘The findings of this investigation are even more shocking when you look at these figures in the context of real animals suffering and dying every day to supply this market for products nobody needs. This trade is not hidden away or happening in just one location. It is taking place all around us, in plain view, with just a click of a computer mouse.’
In the UK we found websites hosted 1,087 online advertisements which included for sale ivory and suspected ivory, turtles, tortoises, owls, exotic birds, monkeys and parts and products from elephants, rhinos, hippos, crocodiles, alligators and big cats. We handed more than 400 of those advertisements to the National Wildlife Crime Unit for further investigation as we had concerns about whether the traders were breaking the law.
In the past year, IFAW has been a prominent supporter of ivory destruction events in China, France, Belgium, the UK and the US, all of which made international headlines. In September, IFAW representatives were in attendance when DvÅ¯r KrÃ¡lové Zoo in the Czech Republic and Bratislava Zoo in Slovakia burned tonnes of seized illegal and stockpiled rhino horns.
While destroying horn and tusk needs to be part of a larger, comprehensive strategy to stop the killing, the trafficking and the demand; advocates for elephant and rhino protection are making an impact.
We must continue. Otherwise we face the prospect that one day we will live in a world without these two iconic animals.
To find out more about IFAW’s work to protect elephants and rhinos, and how you can help, visit the IFAW site.
This is one of a series of articles written by Gay Star News in partnership with IFAW to raise awareness of animal welfare within the global LGBTI community. To find out more about IFAW’s work to protect animals around the world and how you can help click here.
Photos by amoghavarsha.com, Mister-E and Ikiwaner.