The Ivory Game

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Thursday, November 4, Netflix will premier on its service the award-winning documentary, The Ivory Game (link to full press kit).

The Ivory Game  (link to website) poses the dark world of ivory trafficking.  In the past 100 years, the elephant population has plummeted 97%.   The Ivory Game dramatically portrays the fact that we are facing a potential crisis of extinction — an extinction that is totally human-induced.  Award-winning director Richard Ladkani and Academy Award® nominated director Kief Davidson filmed undercover for 16 months infiltrating and documenting the deep-rooted corruption at the heart of the global ivory trafficking crisis.  The production also features the people who are doing the most to keep this extinction from happening.

The Netflix Original Documentary is a production of Red Bull’s Terra Mater Film Studios and Microsoft co‐founder Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Productions in association with Malaika Pictures and Appian Way, with Leonardo DiCaprio as Executive Producer.

Resolution

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As 2012 draws to a close, no clear resolution to elephant poaching will greet the new year.  Yet, numerous efforts are receiving more attention, and there are many are committed to finding a resolution, through conventional and not so conventional means.

In Northern Kenya, poachers are being converted into volunteer rangers and armed to protect their former victims (click here for story).  The incentive?  Tourism in Kenya generates a billion dollars a year and provides more than half a million jobs.  Most safari camps and lodges not only employ local people but also commit a large part of the revenue they generate  back into the local communities to improve living conditions.  In addition, the income received from the tourist industry,  is greater and more secure than income from poaching.  As such, people see that the elephants and other wildlife are important to their local economy and ability to improve the quality of their own lives.  This in the long term is an essential condition for animals living the in wild adjacent to human populations.

To the skeptic, arming former poachers may seem akin to letting the fox guard the hen house.  No doubt, it is a risky, non-conventional strategy, not unlike hiring the best hackers to help protect government and corporate technology software programs. But if a poacher’s motivation was primarily financial,  replacing that source of income with something more sustainable and respectable will likely change behavior.  Coupled with communities embracing wildlife as a benefit, volunteer militias may indeed become a deterrent to poaching.  Throughout many parts of Africa, governments and NGOs are working to help local communities benefit from their wildlife resources and associated tourist industry.  Some programs are aimed at children, imprinting upon young people the value of wildlife resources; other programs are aimed at farmers, teaching them techniques to ward off wild animals that destroy their crops, without killing them.  From the conventional to the unconventional — every effort counts.

As you make your resolutions for the New Year, please remember the elephants.  Don’t buy ivory and make it a priority to help spread that word.  Let’s resolve to put the remaining poachers and the criminal organizations that drive poaching out of business!

A Tale of Two Tusks

2012  will likely go down in history as the worst year ever for elephant poaching.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.

CBS Evening News on November 26, in it’s report “Kenya Takes Drastic Steps to Save Elephants,” tells of some unorthodox steps being taken to save a bull elephant with particularly large tusks.  Mountain Bull is a legend in his territory near Mt. Kenya.  He has been shot by poachers numerous times but managed to survive. Many of the large tusked elephants have been killed by poachers and conservationists are worried that Mountain Bull’s time is running out, given the great price his tusks would command on the black market.  Working with the Kenyan government, the Northern Rangelands Trust and park rangers tracked Mountain Bull until they could immobilize him with a drug-filled dart. Then, with a chainsaw, they removed most of his tusks.  While this may put him at a competitive disadvantage with other bull elephants when fighting over females and territories, authorities hope that poachers will lose interest in Mountain Bull — permitting him to live a long life, even if the quality is diminished somewhat.
At some point in time, the government will destroy his tusks.

This is no long term solution for the elephant population at large, although the tactic has also been employed on rhino (removing their horn) in certain parts of Africa.  It is a sad statement about current affairs if we must disfigure an animal to protect it.  The only long term solution is to eliminate demand for ivory.  This is something we can all help accomplish.  Let the tuskers keep their tusks — and live.