The Trumpets Are Silent

Family of Forest Elephants
Family of Forest Elephants
Elephants are intelligent, expressive, joyful creatures. When acquainted groups reunite, they rumble and trumpet, click their tusks together, entwine their trunks, and flap their ears with enthusiasm, with a great capacity for happiness, matched with heartache, expressing sadness and mourning for their dead. | Photo: Julie Larsen Maher, WCS | Family Of Forest Elephants, 96 Elephants Campaign, African Elephants, Lra,

The 96 Elephants Campaign: saving Africa's elephants

A group of baby elephants joyfully plays, trumpeting and flapping their ears, as their mothers protectively watch them. A new baby has been born, as the sounds of her mother's bellowing and blaring can be heard from miles. Another elephant has returned, as he is greeted by his group, with the rumble and trumpeting of his herd, clicking their tusks together and entwining their trunks, flapping their ears with enthusiasm. The joy is quickly disrupted; within moments, the babies and young are abandoned, as their mothers' only defense is to run for their lives at the now common sound of gun shots.

"All this horror so a human being somewhere can satisfy the desire for ivory."'National Geographic.

The illegal ivory trade was in its peak in the 1980s, where by 1989, the world finally recognized the crisis, as the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) banned the global commercial trade of ivory, according to the 96 Elephants campaign, launched as an initiative to end elephant poaching, by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), devoted to global conservation through saving wildlife, amplifies efforts by the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), to save Africa's elephants. "The death of 96 elephants each day is more than just a tragedy; it destabilizes countries by funding dangerous armed groups and international criminals, disrupts the order of delicate ecosystems, and brings the already endangered species of African elephants, who now number around 420,000, ever closer to extinction."

Confiscated Ivory from Wildlife
Confiscated Ivory from Wildlife

The global ban of ivory sale was placed in 1989: sale of all ivory from elephants after 1989 is prohibited, whereas a tusk from an elephant killed in 1988 is considered legal. However, once the tusks have left their point of origin, it is difficult to differentiate between the ivory, where the "illegal" ivory can be sold as "legal." | Photo: Julie Larsen Maher, WCS | Confiscated Ivory, 96 Elephants Campaign, African Elephants, Lra,

The illegal poaching and wildlife trafficking is the fourth transnational crime, where the ivory helps to fund terroristic operations, such as the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), using automatic weapons to "mow down elephants, then hack their tusks out with an axe'an atrocity often committed while the animal is still alive." As described by the Clinton Foundation, in 2012, approximately 35,000 African elephants were killed by poachers for their tusks, "the worst mass slaughter of elephants since the international ivory trade was banned in 1989."

African Savannah Elephant
African Savannah Elephant

If elephant poaching continues, the African elephants face near extinction within 10 years, where East African Savannah elephants will be next.
| Photo: Julie Larsen Maher, World Conservation Society | African Savannah Elephant, 96 Elephants Campaign, African Elephants, Lra,

As the WCS states, if the poaching continues, the African forest elephants face near extinction within 10 years, where East African Savannah elephants will be next. The WCS stipulates the major reasons for extinction as: inadequate protection for the elephants, insufficient efforts to cease the ivory trafficking, and the increasing demand for ivory, both in the US, and as the rising "East Asian consumer wealth fuels the demand; organized crime cartels [such as the LRA] control the traffic." According to The Enough Project, an organization which fights to end genocide and crimes against humanity by mobilizing diverse communities to demand change, the joint initiative of the WCS and CGI allocates $80 million to fund a three-pronged goal in the prevention of the killing of elephants, halting the smuggling of ivory, and re-educating global consumers.

Elephants are sentient beings. The 96 Elephants campaign describes, elephants are intelligent, expressive, joyful creatures; their capacity for happiness is matched with heartbreak, as elephants express sadness, mourning their dead, staying with the bodies of the slain herd members for hours, even days. PBS, via The Huffington Post, states, "Elephants are widely known for expressing grief after a loss of a loved one, mourning the dead by touching the bones or circling the body." The assertion was confirmed when poachers would wait "for surviving elephants to return to the scene to mourn their dead before shooting them as well," as recounted by CNN.

The Huffington Post illustrates further evidence of the elephant's sentience, with the story of Zhuang Zhuang, a baby elephant who cried for five hours when his mother attacked and abandoned him at a zoo in China. Shortly after the mother gave birth to Zhuang Zhuang in August of 2013, she stepped on him, as relayed by the Metro U.K.; the calf was treated before being returned to his mother, but his mother attacked him again. Zhuang Zhuang was upset and "couldn't bear to be parted from his mother and it was his mother who was trying to kill him." Photographs of Zhuang Zhuang were taken, showing the "tears streaming from his red eyes and down his face. In one shot, he is seen laying under a blanket while he appears to weep." The mother had exhibited loss of appetite and perhaps, depression.

The 96 Elephants campaign continues, the matriarchs rule elephant societies, forming tight bonds; the elephant matriarch "never forgets," where that powerful memory is the key to their survival, as she leads her herd to food and water in times of drought. Elephants also play an imperative role in their habitats, digging pools of water other animals are dependent on, opening forest trails and clearings, dispersing seeds over miles; they help maintain the tropical forests in Central Africa, which is "among our most important resources to fight climate change." The poachers target the elder matriarchs for their large tusks. Consequently, poachers are not only decimating current populations of elephants, but the generations of the younger, orphaned elephants. During the Tanzanian drought of 1993, the matriarchs who endured similar events decades earlier knew where to lead their herds for food and water; the groups with younger matriarchs were too young to remember the previous drought, losing over half of their calves that year.

According to John Calvelli, WCS Executive Vice President for Public Affairs, ivory is mainly used to make carvings in East Asia; with the rise of the middle class in East Asia, what resulted was the growth in illegal poaching. According to The Enough Project, in a report based on field research conducted by Kasper Agger and Jonathan Hutson in January of 2013, during a visit to Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), it was evidenced (through interviews with park guards, LRA escapees, and recent senior defectors) the LRA was utilizing elephant poaching as a means to sustain their atrocities, ordered by leader Joseph Kony. An employee of African Parks, a nonprofit organization establishing long term partnerships with governments to ensure the conservation of national parks, accounts children reporting "' white helicopters landing next to LRA fighters' [who] are given food, guns, and ammunition in exchange for the ivory'" The resources the LRA gains from ivory "supports its continuing violence, undermining the international community's efforts to dismantle the group." As the elephant poaching has run rampant across Africa, the wild elephants face extinction as the "killings exceed their reproductive replacement rate'" with the number of armed groups involved in the poaching. The United Nations estimates a 50-90 percent decrease in the elephant populations across Africa.

The LRA's original mission was to increase the power for Uganda's marginalized Acholi ethnic group; they no longer have a tangible political agenda, becoming notorious for human rights violations, such as mass murders, sexual slavery, widespread abduction of children and adults, among looting of villages; the LRA left Uganda in 2006 to continue their atrocities in DRC and the Central African Republic (CAR). In mid-2012, rumors began to surface: the LRA was slaughtering elephants in Garamba National Park.

In 2012, the Garamba park guards received confirmation of the LRA's involvement in elephant poaching from an 18-year-old woman, who escaped from the LRA; she recalled a man named Mandela speaking regularly with Kony, in asking Mandela's group to kill elephants, sending the tusks to him; she witnessed the LRA rebels with ten tusks. Additional information was provided by Garamba Park Manager Luis Arranz, where guards encountered a small group of three to four LRA rebels, throwing bag on the ground as they fled. The guards picked up the bag to reveal elephant meat inside, also discovering "the carcasses of two elephants without any tusks." One reason the LRA is able to kill the elephants in Garamba is because the Ugandan forces deployed to combat the LRA (supported by US advisers), are denied access to the DRC.

The brutal, illegal poaching of elephant tusks must be combated. The 96 Elephants campaign's strategy in combating the poaching of, and saving the elephants lies in a three-pronged process: stop the killing, stop the trafficking, and stop the demand. To Calvelli, international organizations must identify the poaching as a transnational crime, where "no one country can solve the problem alone."

Stopping the Killing

One key aspect to saving the elephants is the increased number of trained park guards and law enforcement who patrol the 50 sites in Africa, where the remaining two-thirds of Africa's elephants exist. Calvelli cites the study done by WCS Conservation Scientists, Samantha Strindberg and Fiona Maisels, which evidenced a 62 percent decline in the elephant population of Central Africa from 2002 to 2011. The study demonstrated that there were seven times more elephants where trained guards were present. According to WCS, non-governmental organization (NGO) partners anticipate the investment of park guards will "reduce the average percentage of illegally killed elephants (PIKE)' from 66 percent to 48 percent' [where] elephant population decline halted in about half of the 50 sites." The 96 Elephants campaign seeks to hire and train an additional 3,100 park guards, to bolster support for the current 130 guards, employed by the International NGO African Parks, who patrol Garamba. The park guards, who are willing to risk their lives in efforts to save elephants, are often outmanned and outgunned by the poachers. The Enough Project cites, the LRA fire automatic weapons at the park guards; low on ammunition, park guards are forced to retreat, noting, "these fighters seemed more than willing to spend their rounds," despite the fact the LRA usually conserves their ammunition as the group is resource poor.

According to National Geographic, in September of 2012, Zakaria Ibrahim, Brahim Khamis, Daoud Aldjouma, Djibrine Adoum Goudja, and Idriss Adoum were gunned down North of Zakouma National Park. These men were "assassinated for protecting the last of the elephant herds found in the vast stretches between the Sahara Desert and the Congo forest," as these park guards impede the poachers greed. According to CNN, heavily armed poachers from Sudan arrived at the Bouba Ndjida Park in northern Cameroon, slaughtering over 300 elephants within weeks, taking only the tusks, in 2012. Over 60 park guards died protecting the parks around the world, where over half of the deaths were homicides, states the International Ranger Foundation.

Aware of the constant danger, these "guardians of the forest" continue their duty, earning $15 each day they patrol, also tasked with enforcing the law, covering the forest on foot to gather clues to track the poachers. To Zacharie Nzooh, a World Wildlife Fund Conservationist, for eco-guards to be successful, they "must have the appropriate equipment, appropriate arms to first ensure their protection, but also to serve as a deterrent."

Stopping the Trafficking

According to The Enough Project, evidence revealed in February of 2013, the LRA organizes the transport of ivory from Garamba to Kony through the CAR. Acting on information given by LRA defector, Michael Oryem, the Ugandan army found six elephant tusks the LRA hid north of Djema in the CAR. Another defector claimed the tusks poached from the DRC would also be sold to the Sudan Armed Forces, while based in the Kafia Kingi enclave. It is believed the LRA sells the ivory through middle-men (who set up predesignated areas for trade), as it lacks "the network and logistical capacity needed to move the ivory' probably not capable of selling the ivory on the international market."

The key to stopping the trafficking is in increasing the intelligence and working with the law enforcement at the ports. Calvelli continues, the tusks are collected in areas such as Togo in West Africa, then shipped to various ports in Thailand, China, and the border between China and Vietnam. Focus is now placed on these ports, with dogs trained to sniff out the tusks. The trade is of a network, traveling through pathways into East Asia, then to the "legal" ivory markets to be sold throughout Asia and the United States.

What is troubling to Calvelli is in the differentiation of what is deemed legal and illegal. Calvelli explains, the global ban on the sale of ivory was in place in 1989; the sale of all ivory from elephants killed after 1989 was prohibited. However, if an elephant was killed for the tusk in 1988, that ivory would be considered legal, and therefore, sold. However, once the tusks have left their point of origin, it is difficult to differentiate between the ivory, where the "illegal" ivory can be sold as "legal," furthering this atrocious practice. Therefore, an imperative is to reform our current laws in regard to elephant poaching, such as encouraging countries to adopt trade moratoria on all commercial ivory imports, exports, and domestic sale of ivory products.

To Calvelli, it is "exciting to see a broad range of interest" in saving the elephants, as the campaign has not only reached across the nation, but internationally. In addition to building awareness, organizing with partners to develop moratorium legislation (an authorized suspension of an ongoing activity or practice) in individual states is ongoing. A hearing in the New York State Assembly on the sale of ivory is scheduled on January 16 of 2014, "the first of its kind in New York;" a consensus legislative draft to strengthen current legislation in New York, stipulating 10 years as "an appropriate amount of time for the elephant population to rebound, stabilize, and grow," was reached by a coalition in Washington DC. An Advisory Council will support the Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking, developing a national strategy in combating against the illegal wildlife trade; a recommendation is expected in mid- to late January of 2014. The European Parliament Environmental Committee is also calling to implement a moratorium on the sale of ivory (as Germany is a large importer), scheduled in early January of 2014. To Calvelli, it is imperative to "raise awareness and continue the conversation with colleagues," within the United States, and internationally, especially Africa.

Stopping the Demand

As Calvelli observes, when consumers purchase ivory, they are "unwittingly taking part of destroying a species and helping terrorism." Therefore, "changing the hearts and minds" of consumers is crucial in stopping the demand, by raising awareness in the true price that is paid for these trinkets: the extinction of an impressive species, as well as the destabilization in Africa.

According to The Enough Project, the US is one of the largest markets for ivory in the world, second to China. Calvelli confirms this assertion, stating New York City and San Francisco as the largest center points for the sale of ivory; walking down 59th Street in New York City, store windows are replete with works of ivory. The quickest, and perhaps most efficient means of stopping the demand: for consumers to adamantly communicate to these merchants, "We don't want to see ivory in the windows."

Calvelli believes everyone can help in saving the elephants, overwhelmed by such a positive response, as over 100,000 people have been taking action, such as writing letters to President Barack Obama, and Secretary of Interior, Sally Jewell. There are various ways people can join the campaign, whether directly or indirectly. People can sign the petition for President Obama to declare a moratorium on ivory sale in the US, by visiting 96 elephants website. People can support the campaign, where resources are utilized to identify key strategies to stop the killing. People, of all ages, can help to identify ways to tell the story. 96 middle-school kids were gathered together at the Indianapolis Zoo to demonstrate the concept of how large of a number 96 is, illustrating the devastation of the deaths of 96 elephants. After visiting the Prospect Park Zoo, children sent drawing of elephants to President Obama with sentiments of, "We don't want to live in a world without elephants."

In a short amount of time (as the campaign only began in late September of 2013), Calvelli feels the campaign has made immense progress, despite the long journey ahead. The 96 Elephants campaign has the support of 24 partner organizations within the United States, including zoological organizations and The Enough Project, as the CGI has the support of 18 partners, including conservation NGOs. Calvelli is "excited by this opportunity," but recognizes, "we can't do this alone, it's a group effort."

As Calvelli astutely observes, elephants are "incredibly beautiful and thoughtful animals [who] have a right to exist." Exploitation is "creating the extinction of a beautiful animal." However, Calvelli remains hopeful, as much of the support for the campaign to save the elephants originated at a grass roots level, where people recognize there is a problem, realizing, "I can make a difference," by engaging in the conversation, sharing the message, where "we can be successful." Calvelli leaves an encouraging thought, "This is a moment in time where we can all come together' [as] an opportunity to bring together so many voices," in understanding we can save lives on earth, and we have the responsibility to do so.

"If we do not act, we will have to shamefully admit to our children that we stood by as elephants were driven out of existence."'Samantha Strindberg and Fiona Maisels, Wildlife Conservation Society Conservationists

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Updated Aug 12, 2017 12:08 PM EDT | More details


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