Ending ivory trade this World Wildlife Day

Sharon Pincott set up her own elephant project, mostly self-funded, and protected elephants in Zimbabwe for more than 13 years.The following is a heartfelt blog written by our friend Sharon Pincott, an Australian with a passion for Africa's wildlife. She is a gifted writer, photographer and dedicated wildlife conservationist - now an elephant specialist –who abandoned her high-flying life in March 2001 and moved to Zimbabwe, to live and work among the wild clan of elephants known as The Presidential Elephants of Zimbabwe, on land bordering the main camp section of Hwange National Park. Sharon finally left Zimbabwe and her work with these elephants, after endless battles over 13 years, in October 2014, but her work continues to save these wonderful animals. We hope that by reading her words you are also motivated to help us bring an end to the barbarous ivory trade.--RK

It was simply the best of times, and the worst of times. Many animal advocates must dream of spending years with wild elephants, as I was privileged to do in Zimbabwe, Africa. But there comes a time when you have a moral obligation to speak out louder in your battle to be a voice for these highly intelligent, majestic animals; something that you can’t necessarily do while in these developing countries, if you want to stay alive.

I arrived in Hwange, Zimbabwe in March 2001. I was 38 years old. I set up my own elephant project, and funded it mostly myself, having left a high-powered job and sold my home in Australia. I stayed for more than 13 years. Wild free-roaming elephants quickly became my friends. And as a non-scientist, I have no problem whatsoever in saying that. Over time, truly wild elephant matriarchs and their families came to me when I called to them by name, just as a domestic dog might. As the years passed, I would rub a trunk in greeting, just like I would shake somebody’s hand. Tiny elephant babies were frequently brought to the door of my 4x4 to say hello. Families of elephants slept right beside me.

These are animals much more human than those who are intent on killing them.

Snaring was rife. Most of it was commercial poaching. You simply don’t set lines and lines of wire snares if you’re trying to feed your family. Then there were the guns. Some sport-hunters were little more than poachers themselves. And I bore the brunt of their threats, intimidation and abuse. Men well-connected to high-level officials got away with murder. And still it got worse. Fuelled by mankind’s love of ivory, the poachers resorted to killing en masse, with poison. They were after elephants, but frequently took even more lives than these.

Over the years, elephants whom I knew well lost their lives. My most favourite elephant friend eventually disappeared too. For good.

The level of corruption, greed, revenge and apathy can be alarming. For the most part, the big tuskers in Zim have already been shot out. But even so, with East Africa having lost so many, poaching has headed south, and Zimbabwe is being hit hard, even of late in earshot of their main tourist accommodation in Hwange.

In a country where there is little regard for human life, what you hear about elephants is only the tip of the iceberg. Zimbabwe, under the present government, will not change their ways in a hurry.

Hence, it’s crucial to target DEMAND, just as much as it is to target supply. Ivory trade, in all shapes and forms, must be shut down. The negative stigma attached to any trade must be lethal and intensified. And that also goes for young elephants being ripped from their mothers and families for sale to Chinese zoos, as Zimbabwe continues to do, with 35 young elephants loaded under cover of darkness in Hwange on the night before Christmas Eve. On a flight to hell.

Adding your voices to campaigns that professionally lobby governments and decision-making bodies is crucial for the elephants.

The goal is no ivory trade, anywhere, anytime. And ultimately, no elephant trade at all.

--SP

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