Born Free USA Blog
by Will Travers,
Chief Executive Officer
What can you say about a big-hearted bloke who has rescued dolphins, tigers, elephants and more and whose parents once helped a lion cub from a department store by caring for him in their backyard and engineering his rightful return to Africa? You can safely say that he's got great animal instincts! In 1984, Will Travers joined his parents — "Born Free" film stars Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers — to form what became The Born Free Foundation. With knowledge, passion and compassion dripping from his every word, Will's blogs are sure to make you embrace our crusade to Keep Wildlife in the Wild ®.
Dear Friends of Wildlife:
Trust me: 9,000 words is a huge article but somehow even the efforts of one of our greatest wordsmiths, Alex Shoumatoff, writing in Vanity Fair (August 2011 edition), could not entirely capture the enormity of the plight faced by elephants across Africa and Asia. But he did a damn fine job, supported by a wonderful portfolio of both heart-warming and distressing images taken by acclaimed photographer Guillaume Bonn.
This landmark article not only explores the reality of elephant life – their complex and social make-up, their communities, their families – but follows the bloody trail of ivory from the plains and forests of Africa through the heaving markets of the Near East to the rapacious retail outlets of China.
And China features heavily not only because that is where demand for ivory is being driven from but because, as Chinese nationals numbering more than a million expand their footprint across the African continent, building roads, mining and carrying out timber extraction, etc., so it would appear that Chinese nationals are behind the poaching and associated corruption that comes with it, according to Alex.
Here’s a link to the article, a short film and a photo-gallery. Judge for yourself.
What is to be done?
From Born Free’s perspective we are supporting law enforcement in a number of Central and West African countries helping bring poachers to book, making sure the laws that protect elephants on paper, protect elephants in reality. We are supporting the conservation work of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), the Amboseli Trust for Elephants and others, and we are exposing the true scale of its trade to the more than 170 countries that have signed up to the CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Treaty, which is supposed to protect wildlife from unsustainable trade (see www.bloodyivory.org). And make no mistake, it is an unsustainable trade — an estimated 35,000 elephants a year are being killed for their ivory and with only between 400,000 and 500,000 elephants in total — you do the math.
We and the enforcement agencies and the dedicated conservationists can only do so much. Without political will, we will fail. So, the international community, the United States, the European Union, the British government, need to listen to the voice of Africa. They need to pay attention to the newly approved African Elephant Action Plan, endorsed by every single one of the 37 African countries with wild elephants. This plan is the blueprint for the survival of the species, but while “one-off ivory sales” continue, while the U.K. government, the EU and others fail to withdraw the “favored ivory trading nation” status from China and Japan, while some (perhaps including the U.K. government officials who advised Great Britain’s former environment minister, Joan Ruddock) continue to believe that limited, legal ivory sales stockpiled ivory can “satisfy demand,” then we will be fighting a losing war. Rampant demand is fueling supply and far outstripping the potential supply of ivory. All the elephants would have to die and even then demand would not be “satisfied”!
Therefore, the only appropriate and effective course of action is, once again, to make all ivory trade illegal. No more one-off sales. No more concessions to trade. No more ivory tusks being sold at a staggering U.S. $1,500 a kilogram (U.S. $700 a pound). Only then will the message be clear, will the poachers realize they have nowhere to hide, will the enforcement agencies and customs authorities be able to act with certainty — and will the world’s wild elephants stand a fighting chance.