Like it or not, elephants are politically incorrect. Like the proverbial elephant in the room, the killing of elephants is something we know about, but would rather deny that the problem exists.
The elephant problem is largely ignored for three reasons:
- African elephants are not found in America. They’re African, so the American perception is:
- They are an African problem, and Africa is far way; out of sight, out of mind.
- The elephants exist in countries that cannot govern themselves, so how can they hope to manage conservation?
- African elephants carry with them sensitive historical baggage such as colonialism, racism, slavery and extreme violence. These difficult subjects are shied away from in the United States. I think this is the right time to be discussing these skeletons in the closet because avoiding them helps to perpetuate the elephant problem.
- The information about African elephants is overwhelming:
- Statistics about elephants’ pending extinction abound. When the American public hears that five elephants die every hour it does not have the means to either believe or verify that claim.
- The data have little emotional weight and are therefore easily dismissed. (Note to self: data are–plural–see this link.)
- The opposite extreme comes from well-meaning conservationists, scientists and filmmakers who stress the intelligence, empathy and sentient qualities of elephants. Filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert sat down with Ellen to discuss their stunning documentary, “Soul of the Elephant.” Dereck is right in wanting us to understand the soul of the elephant, but is that enough? Does their message on the Ellen show motivate viewers to go to her web site, where they can donate, or do they wait for the next segment that featured Sia (Furler), singing “Bird Set Free”:
And–sidebar–this is where this meta conversation becomes meta ironic on so many levels: Sia’s video’s have been viewed over two billion times, yet she never shows her face, begging questions about identity and the intrinsic worth of her music and choreography versus the extrinsic worth of her celebrity. In contrast, Allison in THE FACES IN THE RAIN finds her identity when she obfuscates her online identity and goes under cover. See-ya. Bearing this in mind, let me make my last point about why blood ivory still exists:
Third reason elephant preservation is ignored is that the demand for ivory is so shameful:
- How can modern Asians consume such vast amounts of ivory based on traditional myths and misinformation? Confronting them on this is awkward, to say the least.
- Affluent and supposedly educated consumers of ivory mostly believe that elephant tusks grow back. They don’t know that for every trinket, piece of jewelry or religious statue an elephant has died.
- The revenue from tusks finances human trafficking, arms for war lords and atrocities throughout the continent.
- Measures to stop the poaching are still ineffective due to corruption and poor governance.
These perceptions are broad strokes and I might have exaggerated or even under-estimated these value judgements about Africa and Africans. The reality is that no two african countries are alike and the GDP of the continent is growing fast. (See this on my YouTube channel.) The Africa of today is not my grandfather’s Africa–and thank goodness for that!
This is why I wrote my book:
I wanted to tell the story of how a white, jewish, twenty-five-year-old New York composer and an African street vendor, also from New York, discover the ivory supply chain and suffer the consequence of doing nothing. As they fall in love their emotional adventure uncovers the heart-rending story of the ivory trade.
Geoffrey Wells writes about privacy, elephant conservation, cyber trends and music. And of course, updates on his latest thriller, Atone for the Ivory Cloud.