Raising the issue of wildlife trade as a matter for public awareness

This year, for the second time in a row, the International Fund for Animal Welfare was invited to participate in the "Traffic" days organized by the Museum of Natural History in Marseille, with the support of the French city's authorities.

This event, held during the Sustainable Development Week in the magnificent Palais Longchamp, provides an opportunity to sensitize the general public to the issue of illegal wildlife trade as well as consider the consequences of this traffic on biodiversity, while focusing on the legal question and the hazards faced by traffickers, vendors and buyers alike.

James Pirnay from IFAW's EU office in Brussels and myself took part in this event along with other players involved in the struggle against wildlife trafficking, including the Regional Customs Authority and the Departmental Directorate for the Protection of the Population (Direction Départementale de la Protection des Populations, DDPP) responsible for issuing certificates of competency and various other permits.

Over these two days, we engaged in three fundamental aspects of our work: first, we dealt with law enforcement authorities, secondly, we sought to raise public awareness and thirdly we strove to sensitize the youth.

Our exchanges with the customs authorities and the DDPP confirmed the need for ever more powerful and sophisticated ways to combat extremely organized traffickers whose operations have become increasingly elaborate. We also learned of the rising number of seizures, which makes it more and more difficult, even impossible, to relocate all seized animals. This further demonstrates the vital necessity of IFAW's work to tackle the root of this illegal trade by eradicating consumer demand for animal derivatives.

As part of IFAW's mission to heighten consumers' awareness, visitors to our stall were appalled by the disturbing picture of an elephant with his trunk severed and his tusks chopped off. Though unaccustomed to displaying these kinds of images, IFAW did so to spark discussion with the public.

This also led us to speak a brutal truth, namely that ivory trade necessarily means the death of elephants, as there is no other way of extracting the precious material than to kill these animals.

Yes, we had to insist that each and every bit of ivory comes from a dead elephant, and that no, tusks don't just fall off and poachers are neither capable nor willing to put elephants to sleep before cutting up their tusks with a chainsaw. We also learned through those exchanges that this should be the core message we need to get across in order for the public to support our campaigns.

Finally, there is the need to build the awareness of young people. About fifty of them aged 10 to 12 were absolutely fascinated by some of our campaigns and actions, such as Think Twice and Operation Worthy, launched by IFAW to fight wildlife trafficking.

Watching the film "Elephants, Never Forget" made these children aware of the critical role they have as part of the future generation to ensure that imperiled species don't become extinct. At the end of our presentation, all the children were given a teddy elephant and an elephant ribbon as a reward for their invaluable attention. A lot of them returned with their parents the following day, which was devoted to the general public, and encouraged them to sign our petition.

Overall, these two days were very successful and we would like to thank the Museum of Natural History in Marseille for their invitation and warm welcome.

-- JL

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Experts

Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
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IFAW Elephant Expert
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
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James Isiche, Regional Director, East Africa
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Jason Bell, Program Director, Elephants Regional Director, South Africa
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Peter Pueschel, Director, International Environmental Agreements
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Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
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