Every 15 minutes an elephant is killed for its ivory tusks. That is nearly 100 elephants per day, more than 33,000 per year. Elephants are deeply emotional and intelligent animals with strong family bonds that last their 70-year lifespans. This crisis is not just tragic for the thousands of slaughtered elephants and their family members, it is having dramatic consequences on the natural ecosystems of Africa and Asia. The U.S. military uses the elephant as a symbol for the Army Engineering Corps because they are considered nature’s greatest engineers -- building pathways and clearing brush that allows thousands of other species to flourish. Without elephants, natural ecosystems can quickly fall into disrepair, which creates further food insecurity for local human communities. Even worse, ivory is used to fuel a web of multinational crime syndicates, acting as a form of currency that facilities the trafficking of weapons to fuel militias and terrorist organizations, and is also linked to drug smuggling and human trafficking.
The Elephant Crisis Fund (ECF) was formed in 2013 in response. It directly supports the best efforts from organizations working to save elephants, enabling organizations large and small to have access to emergency funding and innovative technology to end these wildlife crimes. The ECF is nimble and highly efficient, with 100% of donated funds going directly to actions to save elephants, and zero overhead. Led by Wildlife Conservation Network and Save the Elephants, with support from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation ECF has funded 114 projects and 45 organizations in 25 different countries across Africa and Asia.
Organizations supported by the ECF have made great strides in elephant protection in the last year. In more and more core elephant areas, even in some isolated ones, territory is being reclaimed from the poachers. ECF has provided air support, radio communications, and specialized training for anti-poaching rangers in the field, as well as radio-collaring of elephants so rangers can track their locations and provide “close protection” services. The ECF has also supplied specialized software and hardware that enable rapid reaction units to use intelligence gathered from informer networks to guide their missions. Thanks to some of the best people and organizations in the business, this integrated approach is now working in Africa’s forest environments where movement, observation, and communications are much more challenging than in savannahs.
The ability of ECF partners to stop illegal traders was greatly expanded in 2016. In nine countries and across many borders their anti-trafficking work is leading to a clearer understanding of the illegal trade networks and how to stop them. Law enforcement agencies, and their special units within the police or wildlife authorities, have been supported by collaborating nonprofits which help to strengthen their capacity and hone their skills, resulting in an impressive increase in arrests. With training of prosecutors and the judiciary, these arrests are increasingly leading to far greater sentences—making these actions against elephants a serious crime.
Momentum is building to close down ivory markets with the landmark joint declaration between President Obama and President Xi Jinping—announcing that both China and the U.S. would shut down the ivory trade within their nations. In perhaps the greatest sign of progress in demand reduction, China joined the U.S. as a powerful voice in calling for united action to end domestic ivory markets on the international stage at key global policy meetings. ECF partners are working to help China create a domestic ban that is effective, timely, and enforceable, while reducing demand for ivory products especially in neighboring countries such as Hong Kong, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. These countries will be an increasing focus of the ECF’s investments to reduce demand for ivory and ensure that ivory stays on elephants that are able to roam across the wilds of Africa in safety.