PUBLISHED IN OPINIONS/MY VIEW, SANTA FE NEW MEXICAN – 9/8/2013
Several years ago, my wife, Marie, and I began to mourn the tragic dismembering of elephant society across Africa. We cried for the future of the greatest land mammal on Earth. As we heard about the rising tide of deaths, elephants wept and mourned for their kind.
It was the beginning of the second phase of destruction in contemporary history after 600,000 were annihilated in the 1980s. The great heart of Africa was being laid waste, not for billiard balls and piano keys, as the explorer Stanley once wrote, but for toothpicks and statuettes across Asia, China being the main culprit.
We approached many magazine and news outlets to write about the resurgent poaching issue in 2009-2010, but it was Vanity Fair that finally understood the enormous implications of what was occurring across the continent. In November 2010, editors sent the gifted Alex Shoumatoff (who covered the death of Diane Fossey to Africa) to write Agony and Ivory, one of the most scorching articles on a single species ever written. The piece went viral and galvanized the world like few exposés in journalistic history.
The upcoming March for Elephants, set for Oct. 4, 2013, across three continents and 13 cities, from Melbourne to Rome, from Cape Town to New York, is inspired by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. He is the husband of Dame Daphne Sheldrick, noted advocate for elephants. It is an October revolution for the life force on Earth. It is the first global march for another species in the history of humankind. Last year, John Kerry convened an Ivory and Insecurity meeting in Washington, D.C., addressing the larger ramifications of the ivory trade and its links to terrorism. Hillary Clinton has also recently made saving the elephants her new cause. President Barack Obama met with the President of Tanzania about the wildlife trade, poaching and the future of the elephant and vowed $10 million to stop wildlife trafficking, one of the biggest industries in the world. Increased vigilance and anti-poaching units are now responding but something intangible must also occur in the heart of those who buy ivory. I believe that when the tide is reversed and the ivory trade eradicated, humanity will have taken a step back from its own oblivion.
Our human constructs and artifacts would pale before the loss of these titans. We won’t have a leg to stand on. With the last elephants still marching on African soil, we may still have reason to walk toward the absolute horizon. The march this October is to not only to salvage the elephant, but to salvage what is left of humanity’s humanity. Without the elephants we become ontological cripples for the rest of our earthly stay. Civilization will stand or fall on the back of the African elephant.
Conservationists Cyril Christo and his wife, Marie Wilkerson, live in Santa Fe with their son. Their work takes them around the globe, documenting the state of the natural world.