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The last chance to save the world’s elephants starts today – on social media

The last chance to save the world’s elephants starts today – on social media

African elephant.

Could Twitter and Facebook save the world’s elephants from annihilation?

With one elephant killed for its ivory every 15 minutes and populations dangerously low in so much of the territory they once roamed, it seems a forlorn hope.

But social media has put a way to fight back into everybody’s hands. An opportunity we can seize today (12 August) – World Elephant Day.

In my lifetime – I’m 40 now – the African elephant population has fallen from 1.3million to, at most, 650,000.

There are now fewer than 50,000 Asian elephants.

Each year another 35,000 elephants are slaughtered for their ivory.

Given the size of the animals, hunting is inevitably a cruel and violent crime, usually meaning a painful, drawn-out death.

It casts a long shadow on those that remain. Elephants live together passing knowledge down the generations. Killing some in the group harms the survival of others. Because a mother carries a baby elephant for a minimum of 18 and as much as 22 months, rebuilding elephant populations takes generations.

A herd of elephants at Tsavo West National Park
A herd of elephants at Tsavo West National Park.

Asian elephants, not just African, are victims of the ivory trade, with demand partly fuelled by tourism in countries like Thailand and Vietnam.

Asian elephants are also caught as calves and broken in to do tricks for tourists. They are beaten, starved and tortured. Two-thirds may not survive. I’ve seen elephants on the streets in India, Thailand and elsewhere and marvelled at the site, without realising the suffering they’ve been put through.

Asian elephants in the Wild Elephant Valley, Banna
Asian elephants in the Wild Elephant Valley, Banna.

Habitat loss is the other major challenge. Expanding populations put humans in conflict with elephants, wildlife tunnels are destroyed by roads and cities and border fences can limit their ability to roam and breed.

This is a battle we can win.

In the last two years, the world has destroyed over 60 tonnes of illegal ivory. This year alone, officials have seized 20 tonnes more. It’s sad to reflect that every tonne represents 100 dead elephants. But the crackdown is impacting this highly lucrative criminal trade.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) – with whom we at GSN work to highlight animal issues – tells me they are seeing much more enforcement to end the ivory trade. There’s also more conservation work to ensure elephants live their lives free from conflict with humans.

China has long been the major thorn in the side of those seeking to stamp out the ivory trade but even there the government is now taking action to eliminate ivory carving. The US is closing loopholes exploited by the ivory poachers and the UN is starting a global effort to tackle illegal wildlife poaching and trafficking.

IFAW doesn’t stop at raising awareness. It trains law enforcement officers in countries throughout Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Oceania and the Caribbean. And it works with INTERPOL’s Environmental Crime Programme – including taking part in its largest-ever illegal ivory trade operation in 2012.

Stress free at the Amboseli Elephant Research Project.
Stress free at the Amboseli Elephant Research Project.

For World Elephant Day, IFAW will tweet a picture of an elephant every 15 minutes – to commemorate the daily toll of elephants killed for their ivory. You can see the amazing pictures and share at the hashtag #every15minutes.

Obviously ‘likes’ alone won’t save the elephants. But equally obviously massive public support is the most powerful tool we have to avoid these giants becoming extinct in our lifetime.

Gay Star News partners with IFAW to raise awareness of animal welfare issues in the global LGBTI community. Find out how you can help here.