International March for Elephants 2013. Say No to Ivory!

October 17, 2013 11:45 am

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Friday the 4th of October marks World Animal Day every year, when people all over the world celebrate animal life, bless their pets and livestock, and organise fundraising events and awareness drives. This October 4th was something of a big day in the history of wildlife conservation and animal protection as it was the day that thousands and thousands of people on every continent marched through the streets of their cities to shout out for the protection of the elephant.

Organised by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, the International March for Elephants was made up of 15 official marches in cities across the globe, though on the day itself there were only 14 due to the devastating attacks in Nairobi, (which strangely enough have their own ties to the ivory trade Al Shabaab, the terrorist group that carried out the attacks, get a whopping 40% of their funding from the trade). As well as official marches in such major cities as Bangkok, London, Wellington and New York City, there were also a number of unofficial marches helping to raise awareness and show support of the cause.

Let me tell you a little about why the marches were taking place. The main reason for taking to the streets, petitioning and forcing world governments to take notice is to force a complete ban on the ivory trade. The problem of ivory, both legal and illegal depending on country, is an international one. Asia and Africa are the hotbeds of ivory production and consumption and in a number of countries, trading ivory is not illegal. And even if it is illegal, that doesn’t stop the trade. There are loopholes and large amounts of corruption. It is pushed underground, much the same as drugs. Elephants are being killed and butchered for their tusks and the trend is growing. As countries such as China grow economically, more and more people demand ivory products to show off their wealth or to bind themselves closer to their ancient traditions and culture. It is estimated that 36,000 elephants are killed each year. This includes animals in protected National Parks and wild elephants. The campaign that the David Sheldrick Wildlife Fund set up with iworry tells us that every 15 minutes an elephant dies.  Indeed, the slogan for the entire campaign is ‘One Every 15 Minutes’. One of the most shocking statements on the campaign site is that elephants in the wild could be extinct by 2025 if the level of slaughter carries on at the current rate. This is a sickeningly close date which most of us will see. 2025 is only 12 years away. Well before I am 40, wild elephants may no longer exist.

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I have been a huge supporter of elephant conservation and the protection of one of the world’s best loved species since I was 19 and volunteered with a friend at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We spent a month in the mountains of Northern Thailand taking care of the gentle giants and it was a real eye opener. We were taught how brutally elephants were trained to work, how they are treated and how we must try to change this through education. I lived in Thailand for two years and saw the banning of elephant begging (where elephants are taken around to tourist spots so that people can feed them for a small price) on the streets of C

hiang Mai, and saw a number of small conservation projects pop up, including one set up by a friend of mine. It seems that steps are being taken in Thailand. But small steps are not enough.

When I was told in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in Bangkok that the Thai government are currently drafting laws to make the sale of ivory illegal, I almost cried

. It was on the mo

rning of the International March for Elephants and I’d spent 12 hours in a mini bus travelling to the capital, so granted I was probably a little overly emotional anyway, but to be told that someone is listening, that governments recognise the problem of the ivory trade is phenomenal. For me, that seems to be a huge step, especially in a country built on traditions (which include the use of ivory) and a conflicting relationship with the elephant.

For me, marching through Bangkok with a number of high profile Thai celebrities, the well-known conservationist (and Elephant Nature Park founder) Lek Chailert, Thai

based Dutch conservationist Edwin Wiek and hundreds of people who want to save the elephant was extremely special. The atmosphere was absolutely electric. People were calling out in Thai and in English to ‘Stop Trading Ivory, Stop Killing Elephants!’ Many had signs in all different languages calling for people to stop buying ivory, to protect the elephant and to change the law. People on the street stopped to watch and learn about our cause. The press were there, people with their smart phones took photos and shared what they’d seen with the world and flyers and stickers were handed out to passers-by. Together with the other marches across the globe, we were a part of the biggest campaign for wildlife ever seen on this earth. Each country had its own celebrity supporters, each country educated millions about the illegal trade and the imminent death of the elephant. With the key role elephants play in each of our cultures, I hope our campaign grows, I hope the outrage grows and I hope that one day soon, before it’s too late, we can save the elephant.

 

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  • Peter Duggan

    Fantastic cause! These exploited animals need every protection we can afford them.

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