Elephants are among the most interesting, visually-appealing, task-oriented animals in the kingdom, called upon for everything from hauling human beings to shooting water on command. And, all too frequently, they are killed and maimed for their ivory tusks, skins, and meat, or abused in situations where they are called upon to perform stunts for human audiences.
I don't think it's true that they never forget. How could they? I couldn't. Could you?
Leonardo DiCaprio obviously can't. He's partnered with the International Fund for Animal Welfare on a program, appropriately called "Elephants, Never Forget," to work out solutions for a species that he's found needs it badly.
"Many people around the world still have no idea that elephants are killed for their ivory tusks, and that’s why public education is so important. There were 1.3 million elephants in 1979; rampant poaching and other factors have reduced that by more than half, to an estimated 500,000...The ivory trade fuels conflict and strife. Elephants are killed by poachers so their tusks can be traded for weapons and drugs by international criminal organizations before becoming trinkets and jewelry for consumers. Authorities in 85 countries have seized almost 400 tons of ivory on the black market since the 1989 ivory trade ban."
Sad indeed. Fifteen tons of ivory shipped from Kenya were seized in Malaysia earlier this month. Kelvin Alie, IFAW’s Program Director for Wildlife Trade, says it's a tough practice to stop.
"Ivory trafficking remains a low-risk high reward activity for international criminal syndicates that also engage in drug and arms trafficking. Each piece of ivory comes from a dead elephant. An elephant killed for its ivory has almost certainly been strafed with dozens of bullets from an AK-47 or suffered a long, agonizing death from poisoned food or barbaric, homemade snares and traps."
Not that all ivory consumers are diabolical. IFAW polling indicates that many people worldwide don't understand that elephants are killed for ivory. This does nothing to explain why they'd think it's okay to saw a tusk off of a live animal, but that's another conversation.
The IFAW's goal, with DiCaprio's help, is to collect one million signatures urging governments to oppose any further international trade in ivory, avoid loopholes that make ivory sales legal, and step up efforts to combat poaching. Although poaching is difficult to stop due to the money involved with the outcomes and the people who are willing to do such a thing, hopefully much public education will be involved in this program that might lead to more crackdowns. The IFAW is even working with INTERPOL (yes, that INTERPOL) on Project Wisdom, and they are not messing around.
"The Project has three aims: organize collaborative, high-level international efforts to improve political will; transform this will into departmental support, and train officers in the necessary skills. The Project will call upon countries to establish National Environmental Task Forces that will be connected regionally and internationally through INTERPOL National Central Bureaus. Through these task forces, we hopes to encourage the use of modern intelligence-led enforcement practices for elephant and rhinoceros conservation."
Leonardo DiCaprio's celebrity platform will hopefully raise the profile of this effort to support the conservation of a beautiful, culturally and environmentally important animal, and it's good to know that IFAW and international law enforcement are taking this message way beyond the petition signature. You can sign the petition via Facebook here (yes, the music starts right away, but it's actually kind of cool for auto-play), and you can give your "elephant" a personal message, too. You can also check it out on the IFAW website.
I was the 161, 621st participant in the Elephant March, an easy way to lend my support. Feel free to join in.
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