This year’s World Elephant Day on August 12 provides a fantastic opportunity for all of us to celebrate this majestic and iconic animal. Hopefully it will also remind people of the importance of protecting this endangered species for future generations.
Sadly, due to illegal poaching for ivory and other human-made threats, elephant populations are at a tipping point for survival and if we do not act now, we face the very real prospect that in the not too distant future, elephants might exist only in memories and archive footage.
The issue of protecting elephants is like a complex jigsaw puzzle – it’s all about getting lots of pieces in the right place in order to deliver a complete solution. It’s about working on the ground with rangers and enforcers to reduce poaching, raising awareness about the reality of the ivory trade amongst those that still purchase or desire ivory objects and working with decision makers to end the ivory trade. And, it’s also about recognising that individual animals matter - rehabilitating and releasing orphaned elephants back to the wild in order to maintain populations has a big part to play too.
The reality is that every piece of ivory represents a dead elephant, killed so its tusks can be used to make trinkets and carvings that nobody really needs. In the UK, we have been heartened by the growing public momentum to reject ivory and were delighted in April this year when the Government announced its plans for an ivory ban, stating that the new law would be one of the world’s strongest ivory bans, with just a few limited exemptions. We’ve worked tirelessly to ensure that this ban not only comes to fruition, but also is practical and enforceable.
As the Ivory Bill continues its progress through Parliament, we can’t afford to slow our pace or think that our work is done. With at least 20,000 elephants each year being illegally slaughtered for their tusks, time is running out for elephants and we still need to work at all levels to halt their decline.
Those who profit from the killing of elephants look for new ways to evade the law and get their products onto the market. With large-scale and organised criminal networks using the latest technology to carry out poaching raids and traffic the ivory, organisations like IFAW are leading the way in using high-tech methods to stop poaching before it happens. It’s all about building a network to defeat a network.
Similarly, as dealers and buyers seek to trade ivory online, groups are working in coalition with online technology companies and marketplaces to tackle wildlife cybercrime.
Right now we need UK politicians to ensure the Ivory Bill passes into legislation as speedily as possible to reach the stated target of becoming law by October, when government delegations from around the world will converge on London for the high-profile international Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference. We have no doubt that a strong UK ivory ban will encourage the rest of Europe and others to follow this lead.
Each of us can play our part to save elephants. So this World Elephant Day, let’s all take a moment to value ivory where it truly belongs, on a live elephant, living free.