Wildlife activists and animal lovers alike are up in arms in the wake of last month’s tragic poaching incident, in which an entire family of twelve elephants were slaughtered and their tusks carted off at Tsavo East National Park in Kenya. As the single worst recorded ivory poach in Kenya’s history, the world has been forced to take a sobering look at the ongoing battle with the illegal wildlife trade.
Every year the illegal wildlife trade brings in an estimated $10 billion (USD) which has resulted in the drastic reduction of many wildlife populations around the world. Despite the implementation of international bans and the committed efforts of law enforcement, there has not been a resolve to the problem. Every year, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent protecting animals in the wild, but the massacre of these engaged creatures still continues.
In response to the lack of progress, an innovative non-profit was formed to address the fundamental root of the problem. Run by Peter Knights, WildAid is the only organization in the world dedicated to reducing the demand for these products, with the strong and simple message: when the buying stops, the killing can too.
Empowered by an unrivaled portfolio of celebrity ambassadors and a global network of media partners, WildAid strives to reduce demand of these products through public awareness campaigns and by providing comprehensive marine protection.
Assisting WildAid in its mission to protect the world’s most vulnerable animals is founder and chairman of Virgin Group, Sir Richard Branson. In addition to being one of the most successful businessmen on the planet, Richard is also a distinguished humanitarian with his own non-profit foundation, Virgin Unite, which mobilises the talent and resources from across the Virgin Group and beyond, to tackle tough social and environmental problems in an entrepreneurial way. It was through his work with Virgin Unite that he was first introduced to the efforts of WildAid.
Over the last few years Richard has devoted his time to supporting WildAid with their tiger, shark fin, and polar bear campaigns; however, most recently Richard has turned his attention to the war against ivory poaching.
Weighing up to 13,000 pounds, the African elephant is the largest land mammal in the world. While most notable for their long trunk and beautiful tusks, elephants are also notorious for being extremely intelligent. Showing common signs of humour, grief, compassion and self-awareness; elephants have become a universal symbol for luck, strength, honour, stability and patience.
For millions of years these giant creatures have roamed the earth, surviving when many other species have perished, however today, the African and Indian elephants are the only living descendants from this long line of giant mammals. Despite their ancient history, the future for these majestic creatures does not look promising.
While in nature the elephant has no significant predators, the numbers of elephants are dwindling due to ivory poaching and pressures on their natural habitats. In 1979, there were 1.2 million elephants in Africa, in 2012; however, there are as few as 500,000 African elephants in the wild.
Though the 1989 international ivory ban was initially a huge success, cutting ivory prices, reducing poaching and allowing elephant populations to recover, the success has been short-lived. Enabled by one-off sales of African stockpiles to China in 2008 paired with government corruption, poor enforcement of CITES regulations, and a lack of prosecution, consumer demand for ivory products has been renewed in Asia, sparking incentives for poaching and allowing illegal markets to flourish, particularly in China.
Every year thousands of elephants continue to be poached for their ivory which is used for jewelry, carvings, figurines, and souvenirs, all as symbols of status and wealth. In 2011 alone 25,000 elephants were slaughtered, their tusk hacked off with machetes and chainsaws and their carcasses discarded.
If poaching continues at this rate, some elephant populations will be lost in the next decade.
Last year Sir Richard Branson filmed a public service announcement, urging consumers to never buy products made from ivory. In the PSA he is quoted as saying, “Every year, thousands of people travel abroad and purchase illegal wildlife products as souvenirs. These products may look nothing like the creature it came from, but rare animals are dying for this trade. Please never buy endangered species products, and support wildlife conservation. Because when the buying stops, the killing can too.” Richard’s WildAid “Souvenir” PSA is currently airing on all Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic inflight entertainment systems, informing millions of passengers, travelers, and businessmen daily of the crisis.
Reaching this elite group of professionals is crucial to WildAid’s awareness campaigns. As people travel, they may encounter products made from illegal wildlife products, if they are aware of the impact that buying or consuming these products have on endangered animals, people will be less likely to do so.
Additionally, in the summer of 2012, WildAid took Yao Ming, professional basketball player and Wild Aid Ambassador, on his first ever trip to Africa to film a documentary and help bring light to the elephant and rhino poaching crises. Virgin Atlantic helped make the trip possible by sponsoring flights for Yao and the documentary team and also raised awareness to the issues and the film. The documentary is scheduled for release summer of 2013.
-No other organization has the proven track record or capacity to mount a mult-million dollar national media campaign in China, to sufficiently raise awareness and effect legislation to ultimately reduce demand for ivory. WildAId has successfully developed a highly leveraged mass media campaign model in China, primarily on Shark fin with Sir Richard Branson’s help, which has led to dramatic changes in awareness, legislative change and demand reduction.