The War Only Consumers Can Stop

The ongoing war against elephants has taken a grim toll.  Once they roamed the entire continent of Africa; now, as the graphic shows, their ranges are limited primarily to national parks and other protected areas. But even these areas are not off-limits for poachers.

Recently, The New York Times documented rampant elephant poaching in Central Africa, “Elephants Dying in Epic Frenzy as Ivory Fuels Wars and Profits.” With the accompanying video, “The Ivory Wars,” East African Bureau chief Jeffrey Gettleman paints a very bleak future for the African elephant, given the participation of organized crime rings, terrorists and militia and the difficulty of combating poaching.

The cover story of October’s National Geographic, “Blood Ivory”  and accompanying video, “Elephants in Crisis,”  add a new twist to the demand for ivory: religion.  Writer Bryan Christy reports how the demand for ivory religious carvings by Catholics and Buddhists constitutes an enormous market for illegal ivory

Both Gettleman and Christy acknowledge the only real solution is to reduce and, perhaps one day, limit the demand for ivory.  But doing so is a daunting challenge.  Ivory is deeply entrenched in the cultures that crave it — cultures in which beliefs and values are rooted in tradition. In other words, places where change does not come quickly or easily.

Is there any good news?  Our “wired world” offers us a unique opportunity to help abate this war.  We have seen the power of social media.  If we raise the noise level in opposition to elephant genocide for the sake of trinkets and icons, there may be hope. To those who covet ivory for its beauty and status, we should advocate investment in objects that don’t require killing.  And for those who want it for “divine” reasons, let us ask: is ivory not more divine on the living creature it belongs to?  What would God or Buddha say?