“Living is easy with eyes closed. Misunderstanding all you see.” John Lennon
This week we focused on the nuances and complexities surrounding the illegal wildlife trade. It was hard. Seeing pictures of dead elephants and learning that they recognize and mourn their dead? It’s hard for me to put myself in the head-space of someone so motivated by money and power that they would kill these amazingly intelligent and magnificent creatures.
It seems to be common knowledge that elephants get poached for ivory, but did you know that the tusks of elephants are their incisors? That means elephants are brutally murdered so their teeth can be made into statues and jewelry. Not only was I upset after seeing countless pictures of dead elephants with their faces half cut off, I was further astounded to learn that poached ivory funds militant groups like Joseph Kony’s LRA and involved in international crime syndicates. Because wildlife is extremely difficult to track but very lucrative, it makes the perfect addition to many criminal organizations already involved in drug, weapon, and human trafficking.
Despite their iconic image, it’s hard to get people to care about saving elephants when there are so many other important causes in today’s world. We discussed how framing an argument or an issue can give the cause a wider audience. For example, when talking with Kelvin Alie, Executive VP for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), he told us of a time when he went to talk to a military general. That general introduced Mr Alie as “the man who was going to make them care about elephants” even though their job was to protect humans. When Mr Alie explained how the killing of elephants is linked to social and political unrest, violence, and the trafficking of other illegal things, the general saw how helping protect elephants did actually align with his goals of keeping humans safe.
My inspiration from John Lennon for this blog post was twofold; the first being that it is hard to see and learn about gruesome, uncomfortable, and messy problems that plague our planet. The second being that if you misunderstand all you see, you won’t have the information needed to solve the problem at hand.
Well that was depressing… Alas do not fear for I have some positive elephant facts for you and ways you can help our gentle giant pals!
- There are two distinct species of elephant: Asian, where the males usually have small tusks if any, and African, where adult elephants all have larger tusks.
~Although this is slightly disputed as there are subgroups of African elephants that have yet to be fully recognized as their own species~
- Elephants live in herds led by a matriarch. They are highly intelligent and social creatures
- They communicate over vast distance using low rumbling noises that are barely audible to humans
- Elephants positively impact the land they live on in terms of increasing the biodiversity and health of the land. They spread seeds, dig down to create watering holes in the dry season, and create clearings that encourage the regeneration of forests
- Main threats to them are habitat destruction, human-elephant conflict, and poaching for ivory
- Sadly, where there once were thought to be 10 million big grey guys in
Africa, one in five has been killed in the past ten years, leaving just around 400k
- The National Zoo has a 24/7 Asian elephant webcam where you can
watch these quirky creatures
What can you do? Click on the links I’ve added to learn more! (No I am not sponsored by any of them!) Knowledge is power and after learning more about the complex issues facing elephants (and most wildlife now), you can decide how best to help. Donations of time and money, education and advocacy, writing to your representative to show your support for elephant conservation, protection and ivory ban, AND spread your knowledge!
If you go to a store that is selling ivory products, know that buying or selling anything with ivory/made of ivory is ILLEGAL in the US (with certain very specific exemptions). Doesn’t matter if it is an antique, shutting down ivory markets all over the globe is an important step to stopping poaching.
No market= no sales= no poaching= happy healthy ecosystem with elephants
Keep your trunk up,