Marching with elephants, for elephants
Seeing 96 elephants outside Number 10, Downing Street certainly didn't feel like a normal sight, but it certainly felt right.
In fact, seeing over 1,000 people marching in unity for elephants and rhinos, chanting “David Cameron take a stand, no more ivory in our land” as they snaked through the main shopping streets of London on a busy autumn day was a sight to behold.
I was proud to be invited to speak at the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos event (which was organised by grass roots campaign group Action for Elephants). Other speakers included respected BBC broadcaster and advocate for wildlife Nicky Campbell, Ian Musyani from the Malawi Embassy (who later thanked me for IFAW’s community work in Liwonde), and Dominic Dyer from Born Free Foundation.
Global March for Elephants and Rhinos was one of hundreds of similar marches taking place in cities around the world to raise awareness of the issues facing wildlife right now.
With a megaphone in hand, I did my best to try to bring some brutal statistics to life. Most people know that tragically on average one elephant is killed in Africa for their tusks every 15 minutes, which equates to around 96 elephants per day, or around 35,000 per year (though some estimates go even higher up to 50,000).
But numbers themselves are sometimes hard to relate to.
To bring these horrific numbers to life I showed the enthusiastic crowd a picture of a young elephant that I had been lucky enough to 'meet' a few weeks previously in Amboseli National Park in Kenya. I met this elephant while visiting an IFAW community based project in the Kitenden region on community land that adjoins the National Park. The IFAW project teams are working to ensure that local people benefit directly from their wildlife, so they value and protect it.
I explained that we have to do all we can to ensure that this little elephant, whom I had watched with wonder playing, investigating, foraging and exploring, has the opportunity to grow up to be a big elephant.
Whilst no one has any doubt that the size and scale of the illegal ivory and rhino horn trade is large and complex, our call the other day was far smaller and much more simple: we were calling on the Government to act on its own manifesto pledge to stop the trade in ivory here in the UK (a call that IFAW is repeating at the Conservative Party Conference this week).
At IFAW we know that any trade in ivory can encourage and fuel an illegal trade. Trade also adds credibility to ivory itself - something that no one should ever think is a good thing to own. I was keen to explain, for any doubters, that this was indeed also a British issue. Our own investigations into the online wildlife trade had shown that there had actually been a large increase in the numbers of ivory or suspected ivory listings on British websites since investigations in 2008 and 2014, with the later report ‘Wanted: Dead Or Alive’ showing a massive rise of 47%.
After the speeches, the crowds gathered outside the gates of No.10 as I passed through security with a small delegation and entered Downing Street. After a quick photocall to mark the occasion by the famous black door, we hand-delivered a letter to the Prime Minister, signed by around 120 leading organisations and figures in the wildlife and conservation movement, outlining our clear demand to end the trade and the ample logical reasons why.
It was a day that I certainly won't forget, and hopefully neither shall the Government. The passion and determination of the people I met and from all of the people who marched was awe inspiring and I am always humbled by their commitment.
We all shared a common sentiment - that enough is enough. Things need to change and they need to change now. None of us want to consider a world for future generations without elephants or rhinos, but together we can take a stand to ensure that does not happen.