The Trip that Crushed Me - By Jackie Cittone - Magid - Board Member US Friends of DSWT

My trip to Denver this week was a different sort of experience than those that I am used to sharing

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:

  • Get rid of any ivory in your home. New, old, heirlooms…anything. Do not keep it and do not sell it – just destroy it.
  • Never buy ivory. Some sellers may say it is “old” or legal ivory or “camel bone” –  most often it is not true or impossible to tell. Don’t even think about it.
  • Participate. Write to congress to ban all ivory, sign a petition ( Blog about it. Share a post on Facebook. Twitter about it.
  • Give. There are so many wonderful organizations working hard to protect the remaining elephants that are left and stop the demand for ivory and they really need the money to continue their work.
  • Foster an elephant as a gift for holidays, a birthday day gift or just because ( You won’t believe how happy it can make a child or friend.  AtThe David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, there are 40 orphaned babies (most victims of the ivory trade) in the nursery today alone,  more than any previous time.
  • Travel to Africa. When you see an elephant living in the wild, you will get everything I am saying. Traveling also helps save the species: 1 in 14 people in Africa work in the tourism industry and depend on tourism to earn a living.  Without travelers, wildlife doesn’t stand a chance.  And when you go, travel responsibly with organizations that support local communities and conservation.
  • Or if all that is too much, maybe just forward this post. It just takes one or two key strokes to forward to someone – that’s all.

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.