Every year, on the 12th of August, World Elephant Day is observed to appreciate and raise awareness to the current state of the world’s elephants. The public’s general perception of elephants is giant animals at peace across Africa’s savannas and plains. But this is exactly the motivation behind World Elephant Day – to bring across the message of the elephant’s plight, still unknown to many people. There has been a demand for ivory ever since humans and elephants co-existed. Unfortunately, the demand for ivory is now the elephant populations greatest threat, regardless of the international ban on ivory trade since 1989.
West, Central and Eastern Africa are experiencing a severe onslaught of elephant poaching and illegal ivory trade, maintaining a major illegal trade route being between Africa and Asia. The illegal ivory trade has long reached a point where it is officially out of control. With shocking figures such as one elephant killed every five minutes in Africa, it is difficult not to step up to the challenge of contributing to the fight against illegal ivory trade. Considering Africa’s weak legal systems and how it is fueling the illegal ivory trade is another depressing matter. Recently, a major poaching network was exposed in Togo, Western Africa. But according to Togo’s legal system, the chief poacher who is allegedly responsible for the killing of least 10,000 elephants, can face a maximum of merely one year imprisonment. This confirms the importance of World Elephant Day. This year’s World Elephant Day brought renewed willingness across the globe, with one common goal: to bring an end to illegal ivory trade.
In learning about the illegal trade in ivory, as worrying as it seems, we should not blindly stare at all the cases of loss and failure. Because there is a solid measure of hope, change and progress – as highlighted by this year’s World Elephant Day. A flicker of hope came from Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra who pledged to end ivory trade in Thailand – and although this was more than four months ago, conservationists internationally are still hopeful that Thailand’s pledge can fuel real change. Another positive development is the Obama Administration’s recent pledge of USD$10 million to assist African countries in anti-poaching campaigns and training. African governments are also increasingly realizing the glaring holes in national legislation, particularly the conservation and environmental legislation. Last year, Central African nations including Chad, Central African Republic, and Cameroon signed a trans-boundary declaration to collaborate and strengthen illegal trade and poaching legislation. The WWF’s Elephant Program has been running for over a decade, and continues to provide trade control, conflict mitigation and capacity building. It is with programs like these, coupled with international funding that the illegal ivory trade can be halted.
But World Elephant Day also requests action from us, the general public. We are urged to support sustainable elephant environments, places where we can observe elephants in their natural environment, supporting and learning about elephants and their protection. Excellent options for observing elephants in sustainable environments include the Addo Elephant Park and Kruger National Park in South Africa, Lake Malawi National Park in Malawi, and Amboseli National Park in Kenya. Support the elephant’s pledge by dedicating some time to elephants on your next safari.