This week, thousands of primary school children in Hanoi, Vietnam, pledged to protect rhinos after attending the premiere of an educational cartoon movie based on Humane Society International’s children’s book, “I am a Little Rhino.” The cartoon has been running on national television there for the entire week, reaching more than a million Vietnamese, and was widely covered by the national press. Vietnam is a major market for rhino horn, and our campaign is designed to drive down demand and shut down the markets so the poachers have no incentive to kill. HSI started a three-year campaign in the country in 2013, using a variety of approaches to build awareness from the grassroots, and to deliver the message that it is illegal to buy, sell, and transport rhino horn in Vietnam.
But it’s not as if this issue is just some far-off problem for us in America. We have our own issue with a wildlife product trade that threatens to extinguish species. The United States is the world’s second largest consumer of elephant ivory and an enormous market for the parts of other endangered species, and we all need to do our part here. We are actively backing a proposed federal rule to crack down on the trade in ivory, proposed by President Obama in July.
California lawmakers just passed a strict bill to ban trade in ivory or rhino horn, and that measure is sitting on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk. If the governor signs the bill, California can join New York and New Jersey in enacting measures to stem a trade that drives the killing of 32,000 or so elephants a year. Last year, poachers killed more than 1,200 rhinos in South Africa alone.
And in just three weeks, Washington state residents will start voting on I-1401, the first-ever ballot initiative in the United States to stop wildlife trafficking. The measure will restrict trade within Washington state – a key economic cog in the Pacific Rim, with a major port in Seattle – of the parts of elephants, rhinos, African lions cheetahs, sea turtles, rays, and sharks. It’s a remarkably comprehensive measure, and it was the brainchild of Microsoft billionaire and wildlife advocate Paul Allen. It’s the most ambitious legislative proposal seen in any state to combat wildlife trafficking, covering endangered species living on land and in the sea.
We know that so many African and Asian nations depend on tourism generated by the mere presence of these animals. Millions of people throughout the world go to African nations to see elephants and rhinos, and it’s one of the biggest industries on the continent. And millions go to coastal areas for wildlife watching and diving to see turtles, rays, and sharks. If the marine and terrestrial wildlife are liquidated, the tourism economies will be a remnant of what they once were.
It’s also true that so many of the people slaughtering the animals, and driving the poaching crises, are often involved in terrorism. Whether it’s Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army, the Janjaweed in North Sudan, or Al Shabab in East Africa, these terrorists are turning ivory and rhino horn into cash, and using the money to buy arms and supply their militias. These militias murder civilians and destabilize governments.
By protecting the elephants – either on the ground or by drying up markets in Asia or the United States – we starve the terrorists. We also give these nations a chance to profit from their extraordinary wildlife assets. And finally, we protect the wild creatures themselves. They deserve to live, and if it’s humans who are doing the killing, it is humans who can find a way to put a stop to this self-destructive madness and merciless killing.