My trip to Denver this week was a different sort of experience than those that I am used to sharing. I don’t have a hotel to review or restaurants and shops to recommend this time This was a trip I made that I feel compelled to write about as I sit on my flight back to New York with a heavy heart and lump still in my throat, thinking about the last 24 hours I just experienced.
I just watched 6 tons of ivory crushed. Ivory that represented over 1,000 elephants (and their progeny) who lost their lives all for trinkets.
Let me explain. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to be part of an important moment. On November 14, the U.S. destroyed 6 tons of illegal elephant ivory confiscated over the last 20 years to send the message that the U.S. is serious about saving elephants. It was a symbolic act to say no to illegal wildlife trafficking and raise awareness of America’s role in it (the U.S. is the world’s second largest market for ivory, behind only China).
To say the experience of participating in this momentous occasion was emotional would be an understatement. Seeing all the ivory before me –large ivory tusks, ornately carved figurines, piles of bracelets and particularly the tiny tusks from baby elephants who didn’t even get to reach the age of 5 was, well…crushing. As I listened to all the speeches preceding the event, all I kept thinking was the word “Enough”. As in: I have had enough. As in: We are not doing enough.
Then the moment everyone was here for happened. Time for the ivory to be crushed. As all the confiscated tusks, figurines and jewelry were gathered to be thrown into the crusher, the tears I tried so hard to hold back started flowing. These were babies, mothers, families… lives lost and future ones never to be. For what? Material things. A pretty bracelet. A statue to display in a cabinet. An ornately designed cane to walk down the street. Things that no one really needs.
Greed and indifference has made us care more for material than living things. Today, an elephant is worth more dead than alive. What will we say to our children or grandchildren when there are no elephants left – that we killed them so that we can own beautiful things?
What is happening today to elephants is a genocide. The grim fact is that last year over 35,000 elephants in Africa were killed for their ivory. I know the number in 2013 will be a lot worse. Only an estimated 350,000-400,000 elephants remain on the continent. The rising and insatiable demand for ivory far outweighs whatever elephants are left. They don’t stand a chance – unless dramatic change happens now.
It continually amazes me how many people I meet have no idea about what is happening to this iconic species. And then I have to remind myself, its so close to me – its part of what I do – I think about elephants every day. Unless you are paying attention to media here or there, most people don’t really know about the dire circumstances facing Africa’s elephants. And there are some who know but who simply don’t care – after all why should they care about something that is happening 8,000 miles away, far from the busy lives of New York City where what makes the front page of NY Post is more likely to be about the Kardashians than any hard hitting news like the Typhoon in the Philippines. That is what our culture has become.
I can give you a few reasons off my head why you should care, though. Maybe because elephants are one of the smartest land-living mammals in the world who have roamed this earth for millions of years. Or because they are magnificent, socially and emotionally intelligent animals with the capacity to feel love and pain just like us. A quote that Dame Daphne Sheldrick has said never leaves me – “Elephants are just like us…but better” rings so true. There is not a cruel, greedy or corrupt bone in their bodies.
It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out from numbers above that things aren’t boding well for the elephants. In fact, at this rate, it is widely predicted that elephants will be extinct in many areas in 10 years. 10 YEARS. I have to repeat that number shouting because it is unfathomable for me to believe that elephants – and lets add rhinos and lions while we are at it who themselves are at huge risk – could be wiped off the planet before my youngest daughter graduates high school. That she or any of your own children or grandchildren may never see an elephant in the wild is unfathomable. How about that for another reason why you should care?
We cant’ let this happen.
It is easy to turn our heads and look away but its far nobler to do something. Anything. Here are just a few ideas:
Every little bit matters.
Before I left on my flight to Denver Wednesday, my 7-year old daughter asked me where I was going. And I explained as best I could for a child that age to understand. She thought about what I said for a few seconds, looked at me and asked, sadly:
“Mommy, why can’t people just leave them alone? “
Exactly. These magnificent animals deserve better than this – they don’t have to have this ending. They deserve to be left in peace.