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Elephant Crisis: An International March, As Warning and Call to Action

By Daphne Sheldrick

Elephants have captured the imagination of individuals across the world. Majestic beings, they have enthralled even those who may never have enjoyed close contact with them.

It’s this empathy that has led thousands of people worldwide today to join the International March for Elephants organized by iworry, a campaign by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, to sound the warning that the future survival of elephants is in serious jeopardy.

Some may wonder why elephants matter. I have been privileged to live amongst them and have nurtured a lifelong passion to protect them for over 55 years. My team and I have hand-reared more than 160 orphaned elephants to date, some from the day they were born. It’s a long-term commitment, and I have known them intimately throughout infancy and childhood into their teenage years and beyond.

Scientific studies of elephants have now led to the acceptance of abilities that we have witnessed on a daily basis for many years. Elephants share the same emotions as ourselves, with a strong sense of family and the same sense of death. Like us they mourn the loss of loved ones. Each has an individual personality just like us. They can be mischievous, playful, hold a grudge or feel slighted.

In many ways they are better than us, and they have attributes that we humans lack, such as the ability to communicate over distance using low range sound hidden to human ears. They have telepathic capabilities, as well as being sensitive to seismic sound through their feet. Yet for all the worldly reverence for elephants, they are today being hunted and killed at a catastrophic rate for something as simple as a tooth.

The phenomenon of poaching elephants for their tusks is not new. Ivory poaching in the 1970s and 80s meant that we have recently weathered a similar crisis.

It was only through awareness campaigns and international pressure that a ban on the international sale of ivory was enacted in 1989. This ban provided a brief respite for elephants by halting a rampant trade that in some regions caused the loss of up to 80 percent of herds.

However, following two “one-off” sales of ivory in 1998 and 2008 to Japan and China respectively, poaching has escalated in already shattered populations. These sales stimulated demand, and the result is that elephants are now being poached at the highest rate since records of their numbers began. Current estimates put the figure at 36,000 elephants killed annually, which equates to one elephant dying every 15 minutes.

We witness the terrible impact of the ivory trade in our work every day. Since September 8, we’ve been called on to rescue 14 orphaned elephants in just 18 days.

To date we’ve arrested 1,406 poachers, and our veterinary teams have successfully treated over 500 wounded elephants.

 

Photograph of poaching victim couyrtesy of David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
Photograph of poaching victim couyrtesy of David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

 

But it’s not just elephants that are the victims of this catastrophe. Plants and other animals unique to the African wilderness are dependent on elephants for survival, from spreading seeds to sculpting habitats that are essential to the long-term survival of both grazing and browsing species. The extinction of wild elephants will have severe repercussions on entire ecosystems.

Recent terror attacks in Kenya, my home country, claiming the lives of 67 people further highlight the need for international action by governments now. The tragic overlap is that the illegal ivory trade is known to fund terrorist groups linked with other illicit activities such as drugs and arms trafficking. The illegal trade in wildlife exploited by criminals is valued at US$19 billion a year.

As long as any trade in ivory remains—legal or illegal, global or domestic—elephants will continue to be cruelly killed for their tusks.

If we want to save elephants, we must act now. The International March for Elephants aims to draw attention to this crisis and call for immediate global action to protect the world’s largest land mammal.

Among the demands of the International March for Elephants are: a strengthening of laws and penalties associated with wildlife crime in countries where poaching and ivory trafficking occurs; increased levels of investment in anti-poaching initiatives by international governments; increased diplomatic pressure on countries where elephants live; and pressure on those nations that fuel the demand.

A permanent global ban on all ivory sales, domestic and international, must be imposed now. We desperately need the leaders and people of China— the largest consumer of ivory—to say no to ivory and instead help us to save this iconic species.

These demands can be achieved if enough voices come together and governments take concerted action to save elephants. The International March for Elephants is the first and biggest demonstration of support for elephants—an example of one species marching to save another.

Today, we are at crossroads for the future of wild elephants. I believe that it is necessary for the human spirit to protect our wildlife, and I urge you to join us to save this ancient species, because, ultimately, their loss will have an impact on each and every one of us.

Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick, DBE, is the founder of the conservation charity, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

 

Photograph coyrtesy of David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
Photograph courtesy of David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Comments

  1. Jeremy.Chou
    China
    February 3, 3:33 am

    As a Chinese, I feel sorry about that. Our goverment is enhancing the regulation of the illegal ivory trade and a huge numeber of ivory products have been fired recently in public in GuangDong province to resist the illegal ivory trade.

  2. Lynden Haggard
    Murfreesboro, Tennessee
    January 29, 6:59 pm

    I’ve grown up LOVING elaphnts and just the thought of them being killed by the thousands makes me sick to the stomach. i have to admit that my family has a few ivory items including an ivory carved tusk my grandparents brought us straight from Africa and just looking at it kills me. elaphant poching needs to be put to an end emediately!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Angie Reed
    Louisiana
    January 29, 12:22 pm

    I feel that elephants should be saved ASAP because these are majestic creatures of the world that deserve to have a chance

  4. Jordan Vetter
    Sydney, Australia
    January 29, 1:15 am

    It’s a shame that such large and wondrous creatures are still being threatened with extinction despite all the efforts of individuals and conservation organisations such as WWF being put in to protect them. I guess as long as there’s money to be made, elephants will always be a target for poachers. As long as human populations continue to grow, habitat will continue to be destroyed as well for timber and agriculture. At this rate the elephant may become extinct in the wild in only a few decades. Perhaps we should start thinking about controlling our population before we wipe out these magnificent creatures forever.

  5. Czarina Laguna
    Philippines
    January 18, 10:45 pm

    Elephants being poached for ivory is very alarming. You are doing a good job. These wonderful creatures are so huge in appearance but they are in fact weaker than we think they are. Those poachers must be aware of how important the life of any single creature in our society is, and it includes animals. Thank you for letting us know what’s happening.

  6. paulm
    January 7, 2:33 am

    With human populations set to rise the retreat of democracy and rise of religious right wing types I see no hope. Here in Australia governments have now decided to cull Great White Sharks a protected species. Take the Murray River off the wilderness protection act. Develop the Barrier reef and allow farming practices in national parks. Again human animal conflict the animals and wilderness will loose every time. It is a rush to make as mush before we are all gone.

  7. HeXiaocen
    January 3, 10:23 am

    so sad of watching these pics and the article..
    what can we do to protect elephants??

  8. Prasanna Dharmaratne
    Colombo, Sri Lanka
    January 2, 12:01 pm

    Reinforced concrete frames with used rail structure to prevent human elephant crisis in Sri Lanka.

    Damages to humans, crops and properties of the forest adjacent communities by the wild elephants and killing elephants back by humans have been reported consistently over the last several centuries in Sri Lanka. However, today the human elephant conflict has come to its climax due to rapid increase of population of humans as well as elephants.
    There has been over centuries a conservation ethic that positive co existence between humans and elephants. However, increased conflicts in the last 14 years have led to the deaths of 1595 elephants and 600 people. Causes for the conflicts between people and wildlife are competitive stresses on land, water and food, ill-advised or non-existent land use policies.
    Currently, electric fencing has become the principal solution for human elephant conflict in Sri Lanka. All other solutions implemented, including different types of bio-fencing, however have not produced expected results. Limitations include high installation cost of fencing, high maintenance cost, inadequate service support from the authorities due to financial and man power shortages, poor support from the affected people to maintain the fence, unkindness to animals, disharmony and incongruity with environment and animals, low resistance to wild elephants, short life period of the fence and regular reinvestment cost.
    However, as an alternative to all the measures, it is recommended to use a construction of a fence from reinforced concrete frames with used rail structure to prevent wild elephants entering villages.
    Benefits are such that :
    • This would require hardly any maintenance after the initial construction.
    • Low Cost investment within a short timeframe with a Lifetime guarantee.
    • No severe Engineering design. Simple method which anybody could adopt
    • No special skill knowledge required. Opportunity to obtain the required labor force by the village men.
    • No vehicle can enter the jungle for illegal matters
    • Construction materials for rails could be obtained by Sri Lanka Railways for 40-50 km. For the remaining distance steel rods could be used.

    The above system could be implemented in order to completely avoid the human vs elephant crisis in Sri Lanka. The estimated cost for 1 km would be USD 35,000.
    Total distance to be covered is 3000 km.

    Anyone willing to help us to implement this project, be kind enough to comment below. This will be a great humanitarian move. Thankyou

  9. pravat
    india
    December 27, 2013, 1:13 pm

    we most save the elephant
    thanks to dr dame.

  10. a a vijay kumar
    India
    December 16, 2013, 9:40 am

    The world means the world with all its different life forms.A lifeless world is not a world at all. Every animal adds to its beauty.

  11. Yang
    China
    December 10, 2013, 11:46 pm

    what could isay. so sad. thankyou for your good deeds.

  12. Neha
    India
    December 9, 2013, 11:58 pm

    This is a personal story of one small woman’s fight to save one of the planet’s largest animals. Lek has saved hundreds of Asian Elephants from abuse, street begging and hardship over the past 20 years. Working from a remote village in Northern Thailand, she continues her dangerous work despite obstacles and death threats. Running this sanctuary, Lek has devoted her life to saving this animal. As experts predict the Asian Elephant faces extinction within four decades, her work is needed now more than ever.
    http://www.cultureunplugged.com/documentary/watch-online/play/12189

  13. chuy
    mexico
    December 2, 2013, 2:34 pm

    We agree that elephants must be saved and freed from pouching for their ivory. Yet we cannot help thinking that this applies to ALL animals including those that may be a danger to humans such as sharks, crockadiles, black widow spiders. One may ask is it to the animals benefit that we breed in such a way as to change their appearance for our own pleasure, profit, or food? From a philosophical point of view is it justifiable say to kill sharks because they eat people swimming? When one enters the ocean for a swim he/she places their life at risk and entices sharks who are hungry to feed on them. Life on this planet is a dog eat dog existence and of course each species wants to protect its own. However if they suceeded at this, extinction would soon follow since their sustaence would be eliminated. Whether we like it or not the earth is one and all life is dependent upon the other and therefore we should be advocating the protection of all and finding other ways to satisfy our taste buds or desires to have as much as possible while stomping through life. Lastly elephants do damage trees etc. and therefore should not be placed in the near category of gods.

  14. young dae kim
    korea
    November 24, 2013, 4:30 pm

    Thank you for covering this issue. Boycott products made in china.

  15. Brent
    November 16, 2013, 2:46 pm

    Save an elephant, share a meme

    pic.twitter.com/P9TNPq158a

  16. Mayumi Ikenag
    Brazil
    November 11, 2013, 8:54 pm

    Poor gentle giants…

  17. Xes Kefalli
    West
    November 11, 2013, 4:53 am

    Say no to chinese

  18. Karthika
    India
    November 9, 2013, 5:52 am

    Dr.Dame Sheldrick,
    Thanks for your efforts in covering this issue.
    The same poaching causes serious threat to elephants in india. So sad of the poor state of elephants.

  19. Glorious Nature
    USA
    November 7, 2013, 3:13 pm

    How utterly DERANGED that man has come up with the idea to slaughter elephants for their tusks to make statues of BUDDHA………

  20. Shirley Yamada
    November 6, 2013, 10:27 pm

    >… elephants do damage trees etc. and therefore should not be placed in the near category of gods.
    > finding other ways to satisfy our taste buds

    El Gabilon: Human beings not only ‘damage’ trees but cut down ten of thousands of acres of trees annually. So human beings aren’t gods either.
    Re your taste buds, there are tens of millions of vegetarians & a growing number of vegans who have widened their circle of compassion to all animals. I encourage you to join them.

  21. Andrea Van Dexter
    November 6, 2013, 12:40 am

    Dear National Geographic,
    Thank you for being amazing and covering this issue.
    So much love,
    Andrea Van Dexter

  22. J McDonough
    Alexandria Minnesota
    November 3, 2013, 1:48 pm

    What can i do to help create more awareness?
    (Besides not buying ivory or products made of ivory from anyone selling it.)

  23. Dallas Eslick
    USA
    October 31, 2013, 11:33 am

    This is horrible. How could people be so inhumane? Kudos to people who are working to change this, I hope to some day.

  24. Patricia Klar
    United States
    October 27, 2013, 11:17 am

    Say NO to ivory and killing of elephants. How can we make an awareness in the U.S., local zoo doesn’t have elephants anymore.

  25. Yummy
    China
    October 21, 2013, 7:56 am

    What to blame? Who to blame?
    We should say no to ivory.

  26. Maria Teresa
    Cali-Colombia
    October 14, 2013, 1:21 pm

    Admiro su lucha y entereza a pesar de vivir diariamente enfrentando la barbaridad de nuestra especie. Reciba los mejores deseos para usted, sus colaboradores y su santuario.

  27. Sam B
    UK
    October 13, 2013, 9:11 pm

    To dedicate your life to something so selfless as conservation, animal rights, charity, saving lives irrelevant of species (all life is sacred) is beautiful & you are a total hero for humanity, I hope to volunteer with Daphne Sheldrick’s charity as she is one of few amazing role models in this movement for ALL people. If she can dedicate over 50yrs to such a great cause we all can dedicate time too, even if it is merely 5mins to make a donation or spread an article (pay it forward). It has been a dream since I was a child to travel the world & volunteer with various charities and do all I can to make even the tiniest difference & people like Daphne just motivate me more to make it a reality. I work with charities in UK & hope to be financially able to do it abroad soon.

    As for Ivory trade, China should be held accountable. 3.5MILLION to 250,000 is a HUGE crime, people need to realise statistics so there is uproar & government take notice, but no…it is all backhanders in a debt ridden world & nobody will ever be held accountable for needless slaughter because there is no money in that. Sadly! Fact is if it involves money or politics anything goes and the majority (Us) stand by & do nothing because we are conditioned to believe we cannot, there is strength in numbers & more of us need to be an example of that.

  28. Jen Samuel
    Landenberg, Pennsylvania
    October 10, 2013, 1:04 pm

    Bless you Dame Sheldrick and all elephants of earth.

  29. Gini Holeman
    Boulder, Colorado
    October 10, 2013, 11:12 am

    Bless you for all of your work. I marched in Washington DC last week! Keep up the good work, and I will try and do the same…………

  30. Suz
    USA
    October 9, 2013, 11:10 pm

    First, thank you Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick!! You are a saint! This saddens me so deeply. Those presious angels deserve only the very best in life. I love elephants so much and strongly believe we need more help to make change, and protect these beautiful & amazing living creatures.
    And I also believe those selfish evil murdering hunters will answer to God when their judgment day comes.

  31. Shirley Yamada
    October 6, 2013, 11:44 pm

    Why do men enjoy killing animals?
    Do they enjoy watching a live being die?
    Do they enjoy watching it die in agony?
    Do they enjoy visualizing the distraught family in horrendous grief over the loss of their loved one?
    Do they feel a sense of entitlement, i.e. I can do it so that’s why I kill.
    I feel sick, he feels elation. How can there by such a disconnect?

  32. John Sullivan
    Mount Dandenong, Victoria, Australia
    October 6, 2013, 10:46 pm

    Not only are the ignorant and selfish people of the world purchasing products made from ivory but it is also supported by an industry of artists who provide their skills and creative talent in order to make these ivory products. Artisans from all around the world should be uniting and doing their utmost to stop fellow artisans from using ivory as a material for creating art. Because their minuscule creative effort is contributing to the destruction of something that is vastly more awe inspiring.

  33. Fred
    USA
    October 5, 2013, 12:00 pm

    Boycott china made products

  34. Fred
    USA
    October 5, 2013, 11:50 am

    Boycott every made in China product.

  35. Sonia Clough
    Philadelphia, PA, USA
    October 4, 2013, 9:16 pm

    I wish there was something I could do. I’ve had a LOVE for elephants for as long as I can remember.

  36. El Gabilon
    October 4, 2013, 8:05 pm

    We agree that elephants must be saved and freed from pouching for their ivory. Yet we cannot help thinking that this applies to ALL animals including those that may be a danger to humans such as sharks, crockadiles, black widow spiders. One may ask is it to the animals benefit that we breed in such a way as to change their appearance for our own pleasure, profit, or food? From a philosophical point of view is it justifiable say to kill sharks because they eat people swimming? When one enters the ocean for a swim he/she places their life at risk and entices sharks who are hungry to feed on them. Life on this planet is a dog eat dog existence and of course each species wants to protect its own. However if they suceeded at this, extinction would soon follow since their sustaence would be eliminated. Whether we like it or not the earth is one and all life is dependent upon the other and therefore we should be advocating the protection of all and finding other ways to satisfy our taste buds or desires to have as much as possible while stomping through life. Lastly elephants do damage trees etc. and therefore should not be placed in the near category of gods.

  37. Natalie Dumbrill
    UK
    October 4, 2013, 6:17 pm

    Powerfully poignant! Today the human spirit showed a wave of support that we must continue to demonstrate to protect these majestic, wonderful, beautiful mammals. It is time to protect what the universe has blessed us with rather than see demonstrations of greed, brutality and destruction.