We all know that the ivory trade costs the lives of tens of thousands of elephants a year. There have been huge campaigns over the last six months, both in the form of protests, celebrity Twitter campaigns and huge coverage in the press, of the fact that the wild elephant will be extinct by 2025, probably sooner, unless the world takes notice and puts an end to the ivory trade.
It is estimated that between 25,000 and 35,000 elephants have been butchered in the last year alone. Figures can’t be completely accurate when counting wild animals, but either way, these are shocking numbers.
It is not just elephants who suffer and die because of humanity’s greed. The people who are protecting elephants are at huge risk of death, as are thousands of innocent people going about their daily business. The ivory trade is one major way in which terrorist groups fund their attacks. The Elephant Action League have aptly dubbed ivory ‘The White Gold of Jihad’.
Let me first put things into perspective regarding ivory. Elephant ivory is now sold for up to $3,000 (USD) per kilo, whereas rhino ivory reaches over $65,000. This makes the trade in rhinoceros ivory more lucrative than that in gold, platinum and cocaine. So you can see what we’re dealing with.
Never has the world seen such a sophisticated poaching army attack wildlife populations. Extremely advanced helicopter attacks, night vision equipment and automatic weapons are used to kill elephants and their keepers. Thousands of gamekeepers have been killed in their line of duty. It has got to a point where the UK have sent paratroopers to work alongside gamekeepers to fend off these ruthless ivory poachers. Those who are involved in the trade go to extreme lengths to obtain their prize.
There are a number of terrorist organisations with connections to the ivory trade, but the one group that everyone knows the name of is al-Shabaab, the group that carried out the attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall last year. It is said that al-Shabaab, which has connections with al-Qaeda and Boko Haram, gains a whopping 40% of its funding from ivory. 40% of the 72 people killed in the shopping mall siege were killed as a direct result of the white gold of jihad. Though this is what shot al-Shabaab into the international headlines, they have struck before. There were the 2010 co-ordinated bombings in Uganda, killing 76 people watching the World Cup final, there have been a number of Western aid workers murdered and people related to counter-terrorism organisations, various bombings of African Union bases and targeting members of the African Union, and random bombing attacks on civilians going about their daily lives. Hundreds have been killed as a direct result of al-Shabaab, hundreds have been killed by smaller terrorist groups also funded by ivory, a thousand gamekeepers have been killed whilst protecting their herds. The body count is rising and unless the international ivory trade, both legal and illegal, is completely wiped out there will be thousands more dead, both elephants and people, who are just considered collateral damage to the terrorists and poachers responsible.
Though there is much bad news relating to the imminent extinction of the world’s favourite animal, there is also a lot of good news coming out of the continued campaigns from international stars to grassroots elephant protection groups (such as Action for Elephants UK, with whom I have been demonstrating with). There was a huge summit in London in February where major world political leaders met to discuss the illegal wildlife trade. This encompassed various issues including products taken from big cats such as skins and parts used in traditional medicines, but the main issue was of course, the international ivory trade. From this meeting, a number of African countries, who hold the key to the future of the elephant, decided to do more to protect their wild animals from poachers and to destroy their stores of ivory so as not to fan the flames of the trade. After the summit, a number of prominent Chinese businessmen and women who all have places on Forbe’s Rich List for China denounced the use of ivory and pledged not to have any ivory products, nor give them to others as gifts. With China and a group of African countries denouncing the ivory trade, things are beginning to look up for elephants, and for humanity as a whole.