Africa’s elephant population has dwindled from about 1.2 million 35 years ago to between 400,000 and 500,000 today—all because of the illegal ivory trade. Tanzania’s elephant population fell by 60 percent between 2009 and 2014, and Central Africa’s forest elephants could be all but lost within the next decade if current trends continue.
San Francisco, Calif., December 30, 2016 – Each month and often more frequently, several of us at Save the Elephants and the Wildlife Conservation Network assemble for one purpose – to drive the generous support of donors to the Elephant Crisis Fund toward the best and most effective ideas from the most efficient and vetted organizations to stop the killing of elephants and the trafficking and demand for their ivory. Each month, progress is made.
Because of the tireless work and dedicated actions of these institutions, there are more, better equipped, and better trained anti-poaching units on the ground. There are more and better informed intelligence units working under-cover to stop ivory trafficking by criminal ring-leaders. And there are more campaigns in Asia to discourage the buying of ivory and stronger policies to shut down ivory trade in the biggest, and in the emerging markets.
Each month progress is made by this dedicated conservation community, but it’s not until days like today when hope rises above the struggle, when the tables turn and make all these muddied patrols, these tense undercover surveillance efforts, and the billboards and celebrity PSAs and policy meetings in Washington and Beijing bear fruit.
Today, the tides turned for elephants.
Today, China made the formal announcement that it will shut down its domestic ivory trade by the end of 2017—a faster and more ambitious timeline than we could have hoped. Today, China exerted bold leadership and made real and time-bound its high-level diplomatic statements to close its ivory markets. They went further—China’s State Council specified that the commercial processing and sale of ivory will stop by March 31st, 2017 and all registered traders will then be phased out, bringing a full halt to the market by the end of the year. This is nothing short of game-changing for elephants.
This coalition of dedicated conservationists across the US, Africa and Asia have worked tirelessly to stop the killing, stop the trafficking, and stop the demand. They are working collaboratively, pulling in the same direction to end the ivory crisis. The Elephant Crisis Fund (ECF) has played a small but catalytic role in funding their urgencies, innovations, and gaps in elephant protection with the highest efficiency, sending 100% of every dollar directly, without overhead, to the best ideas for elephants, regardless of whether they come from a 2 person or 2,000 person institution. These partners celebrate this day, and we all applaud China’s global leadership in shutting down the world’s largest ivory market. In doing so, China sent the message that ivory belongs only on elephants, not in a market, on a desk, or in a cabinet for display.
While there has been international pressure, China has acted because of shifting attitudes within China toward the ivory trade, driven in part by charismatic campaigns by influential Chinese citizens, buoyed by ECF supported initiatives from organizations such as WildAid, and policy efforts from the Natural Resources Defense Council among many others. China also sees that the environment matters on the international stage, and has exhibited leadership on the issue of the ivory trade that is virtually unparalleled. This action will save elephants.
We must and we will keep up our investments and the fight for elephants, providing a voice for these quiet, emotional, and intelligent giants of the African forests and savannahs. There is clear evidence that the buying of ivory is leaking into and ballooning in neighboring countries in Asia such as Laos, Thailand, and Japan, and these must be stopped before they can metastasize. The trafficking of ivory and the poaching of elephants will lag behind any shift in closing down markets, and these criminals must continue to be prevented, pursued, and prosecuted. Now, more than ever, we must keep up the pace of generous giving to support the most effective actions to save elephants.
Today, however, we pause to celebrate a game-changing moment in the efforts by this coalition to end the ivory crisis. As we close a year of struggle for elephants, we welcome with open arms a new year. This next year will go down in history as the year when the environmental massacre of the most iconic of creatures on this planet turned the corner. We thank you for your commitment to seeing an ultimate end to the ivory crisis and for forging a safe future for elephants, beginning in 2017. Happy New Year, indeed.