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US Group to Chinese Consumers: "When the Buying Stops, the Killing Can, Too"

Family of Elephants in Afric. Courtesy Peter Knights, WildAid
Family of Elephants in Afric. Courtesy Peter Knights, WildAid
January 21, 2013

RICHMOND, Va. - Custom officials in Kenya seized over $1 million worth of illegal elephant ivory last week, just a few days after the bodies of a family of 12 elephants were found in a park in Kenya, murdered for their tusks. It's a worsening situation, because poachers are becoming more organized and sophisticated.

Despite a world-wide ban on trading ivory, an estimated 35,000 elephants are killed for their tusks every year, according to Peter Knights, executive director of WildAid. He says the demand for ivory products is growing, and it is coming from China.

"The rise of the Chinese economy has meant many more Chinese can now afford ivory, and China is the primary destination. That has led to an epidemic of poaching now, which is really hitting crisis levels again in West Africa, East Africa and Central Africa."

Knights says part of the problem is that ivory obtained before the ban is legal to sell, as is ivory that comes from elephants that die from natural causes, so there can be confusion.

"People in China really don't understand that right now, so the big task is to make them understand not only where this ivory is coming from, but the impacts they're having by consuming it."

Knights says fewer than 600,000 elephants are left in the wild. Apart from their value to ecosystems, they are majestic, smart and sentient beings who need human help, he adds.

"These are really sensitive animals. If we lose elephants, we're losing ultimately a part of humanity; it's a unique part of the planet. They're incredible creatures, and the world would be much, much poorer without them."

WildAid has been behind a media blitz in China, producing public service announcements featuring Chinese celebrities in hopes of educating consumers. Knights says the primary message is that by purchasing jewelry and other trinkets made of ivory, they are contributing to the death of these massive creatures. The campaign slogan: "When the buying stops, the killing can, too."

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - VA