Today the ivory trade is operating at its highest level since the 1989 commercial ivory trade ban was approved by Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), according to a ground breaking report entitledOut of Africa: Mapping the Global Trade in Illicit Ivory Trade by Born Free USA.
Seventy per cent of illegal ivory ends up in China -- the world's largest ivory consumer, as the insatiable demand for the "white gold" is surging with the growing middle class populous. The most coveted ivory is a status symbol, used to create artifacts, jewellery and chopsticks, selling at US$2,100 per kilogram in that country and driving illicit poaching through the roof over the past four years.
The root cause of this insane craving for ivory is ignorance. According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), more than 70 per cent of Chinese don't realize that elephants are being killed for their ivory:
"In Chinese, elephant ivory is called Xiang Ya (elephant tooth). This nomenclature unfortunately gives people the impression that an ivory tusk, like a person's teeth, can fall out naturally."
The reality is, approximately 100 African elephants are massacred every day, with 35,000 of these iconic animals being wiped out every year. Their population has been decimated by 62 per cent in the last decade, due to the surging demand for ivory in Asian countries.
According to the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, wildlife crime is estimated at $20 billion per year. Sophisticated trans-national criminal networks and heavily armed poaching gangs coordinate the bloody chain -- from killing the animals, to smuggling their body parts for export, to selling them in outlets all over the world. And the insurmountable suffering these intelligent animals have to endure is simply beyond comprehension, as they are being cruelly slaughtered in the most inhumane ways.
"Poachers often hack off their tusks or horns while they are still alive. The agony these helpless creatures endure, and -- especially for elephants -- the anguish for their surviving family members, is unimaginable. Elephants have close family bonds and rely on the elders of their group to lead and teach them; when these are killed, the herd is left devastated and shattered, and if babies lose their mother they often will not survive either."
In an effort to bring an end to this brutality, global citizens are stepping up to the plate to bring awareness to the harsh reality that the blood-stained ivory money fueled by greed is pushing a magnificent keystone species to the brink of extinction while funding terrorism and posing national security threat. They are refusing to sit back and watch the atrocities unfold, as country heads squander away precious time instead of enforcing stringent penalties and sanctions against countries ignoring the CITES regulations.
On Saturday October 4, tens of thousands of people from more than 130 cities around the world will march united in action to give voice to the elephants and rhinos during a Global March for Elephants and Rhinos.
In a historic move Chinese youth are joining forces with the global community in giving voice to the wildlife and save their country's reputation, as a student cycling team from Shangdong University has embarked on a journey to raise public awareness of the elephant poaching crises. The Humane Society International (HSI) suggests, a student cycling team from the university will be participating in a four-day bike tour across Shandong province, urging passersby's to sign a pledge to protect elephants and not purchase ivory. Iris Ho, Wildlife Program manager of HSI, says:
"The student-run Cycling for Elephants event illustrates that people in China, particularly Chinese youth, are sympathetic to the plight of imperiled elephants. From our experience with directly engaging Chinese communities in animal protection issues, we know that concerned Chinese citizens are willing and ready to be part of the global effort to stop the ivory trade."
Hong Kong and Toronto are two of the cities marching for the elephants and rhinos. One of the organizers of the Toronto march, Emily Menezes, who grew up in Kenya and moved to Canada when she was nine-years old, says the scale and brutality by which herds of elephants are being destroyed, leaving the calves orphaned is appalling, and having a profound emotional impact on people's minds.
"When I first started reading about the issue, I was so upset, as I felt absolutely powerless. So the march is an opportunity to give your voice, to share your rage, and to let people in your community know that 'there is an issue that I care about that I want you to know about."
Organizers around the world will also reach out to embassy representatives in countries involved in the demand, supply and transit chain of ivory trade to push for changes. The Toronto branch for its part is planning to introduce a comprehensive petition in parliament this year.
"We need people to come out and put 'real' signatures on that petition. We hope to have a lot of media attention for this year's march and we are excited to have some exciting speakers lined up."
I am deeply honored to be invited to host the event and give voice to these majestic animals at the Trinity Square in Toronto at 2:00 p.m. But regardless, Menzes says ending the poaching crises would require a complete ban on trade in wildlife parts, prosecuting criminals, and treating wildlife crime as a serious crime. In addition, educating and supporting people who live with wildlife is absolutely vital to changing attitudes towards the natural world.
Menezes is calling on the international Chinese people to get involved in the movement and raise awareness back home, as she believes they would be far more effective than others in communicating "distaste for wildlife products".
"I do not want to live in a world without wild animals. Truly, I believe I would be incomplete, unwhole, if nowhere were there a group of elephants march across a vast landscape. I grew up in Kenya with elephants. I know what it is to lose them. I don't want to lose them forever. That is what this battle is about. My hope is that we will take a stand against this intolerable loss and begin to value wildlife in a new way."
Click on the highlighted area for more information on the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos find an event near you, and on this World Animal Day please make the time to unite with the global voices before its too late for the most charismatic land mammals on earth.