The elephant in the (state) room

Around 1,000 people marched in unity from Oxford Circus in London to the gates of 10 Downing StreetIt's always a pleasure to be surrounded by like-minded passionate people, regardless of the cause. There's something about the feeling of unity when people come together to amplify their voice for a cause.

So, it was a pleasure for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to have a very active role once again in the London leg of the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos. Around 1,000 people marched in unity from Oxford Circus in London to the gates of 10 Downing Street with a simple goal: To deliver a letter to the new Prime Minister Theresa May, and to make sure that the shoppers of London (and the newsmakers) didn't miss the fact that we, Britain’s general public, care passionately about wildlife.

It's no coincidence that this year's March took place on the opening day of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Conference of the Parties (CoP), in Johannesburg, South Africa. This is where critical decisions that regulate the international trade in key species are proposed and voted on. The way that ivory can and can’t be traded is one of many animal products on the list and the decisions taken at this CITES CoP will, more than ever, make or break the future of countless species worldwide. Fortunately, IFAW had a team of experts at the Conference to do all we can to influence at this critical point of decision-making.

READ: CITES UPDATE: Huge wins for parrots, rhinos, sharks; lions, elephants gain some ground

Surrounded by a host of esteemed guests, peers and former colleagues from across the conservation sector, we gathered at the gates of Number 10. As compere for the speeches, it was a great pleasure to not only say a few words on the issue, but also to introduce a host of moving speeches from a wide range of speakers including broadcaster Nicky Campbell, celebrity chef and environmental campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and actress and founder of Born Free Virginia McKenna. Conservationist and activist Stanley Johnson read out a statement from the Foreign Secretary, his son, Boris Johnson. The crux of Boris's message was clear – we are privileged to have elephants on our planet; we must act, and that means a full ban on domestic ivory trade as his own party promised in its manifesto.

Then, a small delegation went through the gates to hand deliver the letter to Prime Minister May, signed by IFAW and around 120 other leading conservation organisations and individuals which echoed Boris Johnson’s call to bring on the ban on any trade in ivory in the UK.

Now really is the time. Elephant populations continue to be decimated at a truly staggering and entirely unsustainable rate. Population figures released last month show a severe decline across key parts of Africa (30 percent in the last seven years!) and in the last few days the Duke of Cambridge made a statement that said if we do not act, then by the time his 16-month-old daughter, Princess Charlotte, is 25, there will not be a single elephant in the wild. 

In the same week an article and film appeared on Sky News - a story that followed a wealthy American trophy hunter hunting an elephant in Namibia. The 'service' this trophy hunt apparently provided was to kill an elderly bull elephant in a 'humane' way to 'help the community' by leaving them some scraps of elephant meat. The reality was that the elephant was shot and not killed; it let out a scream of agony and then was tracked for another four hours before it took another seven shots to kill it. The trophy hunter and the guide were apparently moved to tears saying 'we do it because we love them’, but for me and others it felt like nothing more than a condensed Cecil the Lion incident – pain, suffering and pointless killing for fun. Whilst the argument of trophy hunting is always going to have two sides, one of those surely has to be, why kill something to save something.

We hope the Prime Minister does act, and we hope all of the global governmental delegations have the wider best interests of our planet’s elephants, and wildlife, at heart, and that we remember that elephants and other animals aren’t simply a commodity to exploit. They are living, breathing, intelligent and sentient beings.


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation
Sonja Van Tichelen, Vice President of International Operations
Vice President of International Operations
Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
Director, EU Office
Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime