Today – Friday, October 4 – the world will be marching for elephants in what promises to be the single largest event of this kind. And not a day too soon. Sponsored by The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, the International March for Elephants is being organized through their iWorry campaign, events will take place in 15 cities around the globe.
During our first visit to Kenya just over a year ago, I couldn’t leave without fostering an elephant at the Sheldrick Trust in Nairobi. I actually gifted the foster, Kithaka, to a dear friend in memory of a beloved pet. Not long after, my mom followed suit and fostered another elephant, Barsilinga.
On this most recent visit, I not only got to visit our fosters but also got to put them to bed, one of the most unique and close wildlife encounters I’ve ever had. I’d heard of the the bonding that elephant babies need to survive, and the very human-like qualities they exhibit, but seeing it up close and personal was remarkable.
I met the other elephants orphans, their keepers, and blew on their trunks (elephants will never forget you if you do this, so they say…), before seeing them off to bed. The keepers are incredible people – such love and care they give, even sleeping in the stables with each elephant under two years old, as young elephants need the bonding and to be fed their bottles every three hours.
It was a magical experience that made me appreciate the work Shedrick does even more, especially now when the slaughter of elephants for ivory has reached crisis levels.
Here are the facts:
- One elephant is killed every 15 minutes.
- At this rate of poaching, elephants roaming wild face extinction by 2025.
- Since 1980, the estimated population of African elephants has fallen from 1.2 million to less than 420,000.
- According to various reports, 35,000 elephants were killed in 2012 alone.
- Ivory trafficking is estimated to be a $7-10 billion a year industry, according to several nonprofit advocacy groups, making it one of the world’s most lucrative criminal industries.
Click here for more info on the March for Elephants and how to get involved in the 15 cities where events are taking place today.
Fostering and funding the tremendous efforts at Sheldrick are just tiny, easy steps to take to help tackle a much larger problem. Sheldrick is taking care of the orphans who are threatened by poaching and human-wilflife conflicts, but the root of the problem is what really needs to be addressed across the continent.
In the Masai Mara, for example, Richard Roberts has made the Mara Elephant Project one of his top priorities. Owner/Operator of two luxury safari camps in the Mara, Forrest and River Camps, Roberts spends most of his time working with a team who collaborate with land conservancies, researchers, and conservationists to make sure they are doing everything in their power to be part of the solution, from activating a Rapid Response Unit to quickly respond to conflict situations to poaching alerts.
Funded in part by ESCAPE Foundation, the Mara Elephant Project (MEP) also engages the community by teaching human-elephant conflict resolution methods and anti-poaching education, helping locals learn to live along side the elephant.
One of the key steps has been to work with the Kenya Wildlife Service so that the data and statistics are as accurate as possible and shared. At the helm of the project is the founder of Save the Elephants and one of the world’s foremost authorities on elephant conservation, Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, who began his career in the scientific study of elephant behavior in Africa during the 1960s and is most noted for pioneering the GPS tracking of elephants.
By chance, I was able to meet Dr. Douglas-Hamilton while in the Mara a couple of weeks ago. He was there to check on one of the elephants who was missing. Inspired by his passion and horrified by his flying skills (even his daughter admitted that flying with him may be life-threatening), I was in awe of his life-long dedication to elephants. In just a day, the missing elephant was found and steps were taken to insure the GPS was properly functioning.
The better the statistics and education, the better we can understand the crisis and find a solution, though it’s complex. The heart of the issue stems from the high value of ivory and outrageous poaching numbers combined with population increases that affect the available land for elephants to graze and migrate among growing numbers of farms.
To help raise awareness, just last week Hillary Clinton announced a new$80 million, three-year program on behalf of the Clinton Global Initiative, which is aimed at ending ivory trafficking by adding new park guards at major elephant ranges and sniffer-dog teams at global transit points, among other efforts.
Clinton was quoted in the Washington Post, saying “Unless the killing stops, African forest elephants are expected to be extinct within 10 years.” According to the report, she “drew a direct link between terrorism and elephant poaching, citing growing evidence that terrorist groups in Africa are funding their activities in part by trafficking ivory…including al-Shabab, the group responsible for the recent attack at a shopping mall in Nairobi.”
In her speech, quoted by the Post, Clinton said:
[quote]This is not just about elephants…It is about human beings, governments, trying to control their own territory, trying to keep their people safe, as well as protect their cultural and environmental heritage. [/quote]
– Lindsay Taub
Photos © Lindsay Taub