I don’t want to belittle World Elephant Day; if anything I believe it should be an extra 364 days a year. Today has the best of intentions, but unfortunately one day for elephants is not enough. We’re living during an elephant crisis which deserves real estate on the nightly news—whether you’re an animal lover or not. Here’s why.
Elephant. Just the word brings up visions of beloved children’s storybooks, elephant families walking single-file across Africa’s plains, and cultural icons appearing in everything from jewelry to religious carvings. They are adored worldwide. I’d argue if we knew more about them, we would be even more obsessed with these charismatic creatures. They are big-brained, social, emotional beings, and there is so much we can learn from them.
We are living during a pivotal point in the future of this species. One of the planet’s most magnificent creatures is facing extinction in the next decade. I’m in awe that the world is fascinated by these gentle giants, though we are watching them slide so quickly—ten years and we are realistically living in a world without them. I refuse to sit back and risk my peers and future generations only reading about these enchanting creatures in storybooks.
1. Want to End Terrorism? Fight the Ivory Trade
Anyone buying ivory is not just buying a little keepsake, but also engaging in a few other acts. 1.) Their purchase is the death sentence for a remarkable creature. 2.) Their purchase is linked to the deaths of countless rangers, who lose their lives protecting these creatures. 3.) Their purchase impacts local communities whose livelihoods are connected to elephants and the tourism industry. 4.) There is a direct link between the ivory/illegal wildlife trade and terrorism. These groups are funding terrorist acts through money they receive through ivory trafficking. These are not small makeshift elephant traps–these are heavily-armed poachers equipped with machine guns and military aircraft. Wildlife trafficking is the fifth most profitable illegal trade valued at more than $1,000 a pound: Purchasing ivory threatens our global security. This is why President Obama recently announced a three year $80 million Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action, which brings together NGOs, governments and concerned citizens to stop wildlife trafficking and the slaughter of Africa’s elephants. Sadly, it’s not close to enough—the consumer has the power. Whether you’re from New York, Beijing, or Bangkok—fight terrorism by not buying ivory.
2. Even if you never step foot in Africa, your life is dependent on elephants
Many people think of elephants just as decorations that pepper the African and Asian landscape with no bigger purpose. This is incorrect; elephants are the gardeners, engineers, and architects of Africa. Throughout the course of their lives they are the masters of the forest and savannas—key to the foundation of the hydrological cycle, climate stabilization, carbon storage, and supporting the web of life. This means that even individuals and industrialized countries that will never step foot in Africa depend on this keystone species and their role in the survival of Africa’s ecological balance. As these massive creatures make their way through the African continent, knowing no borders, they develop trails for other animals and disperse seeds. In their path new trees grow providing food and shelter and oxygen-rich clean air for all of us. Elephants eat seeds, transport them, and disseminate them through their dung. Since they walk such long distances, they are responsible for spreading and planting seeds vast distances across the African continent. There are countless plants that solely depend on elephants to survive; even their dung provides the ideal environment for species to grow and flourish and acts as an ideal fertilizer and food source for other animals. They are also responsible for finding water sources for other animals and the local people. During droughts older elephants with their unforgettable memories will actually remember where to find water based on droughts in years prior—their minds are wells of information that contribute to the survival of the species and all others connected to it.
3. Elephants are worth more alive than dead
How can we prove this? Travel. Get out there and explore. Travelers’ presence in Botswana or Kenya or South Africa proves to the local people that these sensational creatures roaming their backyards are worth more alive than reduced to ivory trinkets. African nations are realizing that elephants are one of their most valuable natural resources and need to be fiercely protected. Wildlife tourism makes up 20 to 40% of international tourism, but once it’s gone, it’s irrecoverable. As elephant populations plummet, so do the livelihoods of the local people. We can reverse this.
4. We are more alike than you think
Elephants are self-aware, feeling, thinking, emotive creatures whose emotional capacity challenges our own. There are countless examples of them crying and mourning, celebrating and partying. The life of an elephant includes feeling compassion, love, sadness, anger—emotions that are ingrained in the daily rhythm of their lives, and ours. The debut of a baby elephant will be accompanied with countless trumpets and rumbling of joy! When elephant family members unite, the happiness of getting the gang back together is undeniable—rumbling, flapping ears, trumpeting, linking trunks, throwing dirt in the air and delightful squealing remind us of our own family reunions where we similarly laugh, hug, shake hands, and dance!
I remember my visit to the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand where I met two elephant best friends, Jokia and Mae Perm, who, before arriving at the sanctuary, had both lived (separately) lives of abuse and overwork. Jokia had been blinded by her owner throwing rocks in her eye when she was too tired and depressed to work. Fast-forward to their meeting at this special elephant sanctuary and they were inseparable. If they separated they cried for each other until they were reunited. They lead each other around the refuge. Their love and friendship is undeniable—trunks intertwined, one leading the way—always by each other’s sides. These are extraordinarily altruistic, compassionate and sensitive animals.
We’ve also given them way too many reasons to feel and display grief and despair. The demand for ivory has led to over 96 elephants a day getting their tusks hacked off. After the act, they lay there half alive for days, oftentimes with their little ones there watching, waiting. The mother’s face bloody and hacked off, the baby scared, mourning, and terrorized by the ordeal, the baby will stay by her side crying through the night. The thought of what goes through the mother’s head during that time is gut-wrenching, knowing her emotional capacity to understand what is going on. It needs to stop.
Want to do something? Here’s how to help:
Travel: By traveling to see these majestic creatures in their natural habitat, you demonstrate that these animals are worth more alive than dead. Stay in lodges that make conservation a priority such as Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust’s Campi ya Kanzi as well as Chem Chem and Little Chem Chem, and Great Plains Conservation’s Zarafa Camp, ol Donyo Lodge, Duba Plains Camp, Selinda Camp, and Selinda Explorers Camp.
Join The Elephant Map Project
Can a map change the future for elephants? We think so, and are creating a unique elephant map to mobilize a movement to protect these majestic creatures with Connie Brown of Redstone Studios. In this first-ever collaborative conservation art project, together we can paint a future where elephants survive and thrive. Click here to learn more about this project and help paint our map.
Sign the iWorry petition: Each year, tons of ivory is illegally trafficked across the globe fueling the black market trade and funding terrorism. Until there is a complete, global ban on the trade in ivory, will we see elephant populations begin to recover. Help us make this a reality and say NO to ivory. Add your name below to the 100,000 people calling for an end to the ivory trade.
The Cutest Way to Help: For less than dinner and a drink, foster a baby orphaned elephant through the widely-respected The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. There is Orwa, whose mother was poached, but whose trust for humans still goes strong (from the outset he was sucking on the elephant keepers’ hands and slurping up bottles of milk). Or Kamok, who was found wobbly on her legs, and now keeps up with the herd and enchants everyone who crosses her path. (Another idea: one of our clients fostered her for her four-year-old daughter’s class. The teachers loved the idea so much they made a year-long project out of it.) And here are more orphans and their compelling stories.
(If you’re planning to visit Kenya, we’re more than happy to arrange a private visit with our friends at The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust so you can meet your little elephant (or rhino) in person. It’s an unforgettable experience to add to your trip, and provides a powerful glimpse into the emotional capacity of these unbelievable creatures, their ability to forgive and their fight for survival.)
Travel Industry Friends: Join the S.A.F.E. Campaign (Safeguarding a Future for Africa’s Elephants). A new initiative from The Bodhi Tree Foundation, S.A.F.E is dedicated to galvanizing and uniting the tourism industry and travelers to help end the dramatic rise in poaching of Africa’s elephants.
Tell congress to support conservation programs that help combat poaching but are under threat from severe funding cuts this year at 96 Elephants
Write to your elected representative directly to call for a ban on domestic and international trade on ivory at http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml
So please remember: you do not need to be an animal lover, or live amongst the elephants, or have the smallest desire to see elephants in person to be impacted by them. As elephants face an epic slaughter, please take a cue from them and show your compassion by taking the steps above to give them a fighting chance. Learn more about Absolute Travel’s Absolute Awareness work by getting in touch with one of our luxury travel specialists.