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World Elephant Day - Time to Celebrate?

Killing animals for fun has certainly been on the news a lot these last few weeks, with a not very loved American dentist now in hiding over his killing of Zimbabwe's Cecil the lion which outraged the planet like nothing seen before. But it isn't just lions being killed each and every day - every 15 minutes an elephant is killed in Africa for its tusks - for status symbols, for ornaments, for jewellery, for cash. So, is today, World Elephant Day, (Aug 12) really a time to celebrate?

Sometimes it can seem as though it's all bad news for animals, but events like World Elephant Day give us the opportunity to celebrate one of the truly magnificent animals with which we share our planet. There's no way we can ignore that, sadly, elephants face many man-made threats, but we can also reflect on this incredible species and that in itself can inspire people to work together for their protection, and ensure we don't have to face the depressing reality of a world without elephants, which is a real risk without all of our commitment and intervention.

For thousands of years, elephants have fascinated humans. Research has shown them to be hugely intelligent animals which build complex social and family structures similar to our own. The old adage 'an elephant never forgets' is true - elephants mourn their dead and keep week-long vigils over family members. If this isn't sad enough, the current statistics for poaching for the ivory trade are sadder yet. Around 35,000 to 50,000 elephants die each year for their ivory and illegal trafficking of wildlife is one of the world's most lucrative criminal activities, valued at around £12.25 billion annually. Right up there towards the top of the list with global crimes such as trafficking in drugs and people.

When you add to this the problem of disappearing habitats, which forces elephants further into conflict with humans, it is easy to see why they are facing local extinction in many areas. But, it's not over yet! More and more people around the world are getting increasingly frustrated about this irreversible destruction of our planet's creatures.

With increasing media attention and public awareness on threats to elephants, we are also witnessing a significant groundswell in determination by governments, NGOs and the public to protect elephants from the ivory trade and to safeguard their habitats.

Over the past two years, countries including the US, China and France have destroyed more than 60 tons of illegal ivory and media reports show law enforcers have made at least 70 seizures totalling nearly 20 metric tonnes of contraband ivory since the beginning of this year. This kind of crime is starting to not pay.

Another vital step in protecting elephants from the ivory trade is to disrupt potential markets and reduce consumer demand. To that end we have recently seen the EU call a halt to the importation of elephant trophies and many international airlines are now refusing to transport trophies from the hunting of elephants and other animals. In China, there is a growing movement for animal welfare with many young Chinese celebrities and key figures joining IFAW's positive campaign to educate the public about ivory and the threat to elephants. This is all against a backdrop of working with communities, other NGOs and governments to create protected corridors and habitats where elephants can live in safety.

So, on World Elephant Day it's clear that there is much still to be done, but it certainly isn't all doom and gloom. Each of us has a part to play to ensure that we, our kids and our grandkids can all marvel at the spectacle of seeing an elephant in the wild - even if it is just on TV, knowing that we weren't the generation that gave up.

Today IFAW is tweeting a different photograph of an elephant every 15 minutes - 96 in all - to commemorate the daily toll of elephants killed for their ivory. Get involved and show you care and that our elephants matter. #every15minutes.

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