Cape Town - The African continent is losing elephants at an alarming rate - every 15 minutes an elephant is killed for its ivory in East Africa. That’s a staggering 30 000 elephants a year.
100 000 elephants were killed by poachers in just three years, and Central Africa has lost 64% of its elephants in a decade. According to wildlife conservation journalist Scott Ramsay, the African elephant saw a 97% decline in the specie in less than a century.
The statistics are shocking and the consequences frightening.
Africa has reached the tipping point where more elephants are being killed than are being born, which means we are on a fast and downward spiral to the extinction of one of the most iconic creatures on our planet.
But with all the hopelessness surrounding the African elephant's fate, how can ordinary South Africans who are passionate about nature conservation help turn around these statistics?
One group of passionate and powerful women have decided to take action in aid of elephant conservation in Africa - as one way of fighting for these iconic species' survival.
The Elephant Ignite Expedition will leave from Durban on 9 August this year, three days ahead of World Elephant Day on 12 August 2016.
Elephants are known for their strong matriarchal bonds and family structures, so the metaphor behind the women on the Elephant Ignite Expedition is representative of so much more than just the ladies and their journey across the continent.
"During the trip we aim to embrace: the unity of communities and nature working together, experience the power of individuals and animals, and the close bonds upheld in a family unit," they say.
The group of 13 women, six permanent crew and seven alternating crew, will travel a distance of over 10 000kms through 10 southern African countries, visiting African organisations dedicated to the preservation of elephants that need our ongoing support.
"Our expedition members will get the opportunity to connect with current conservation, political and tribal leaders in various countries and foster knowledge-sharing between generations and nationalities.
To put matters into perspective, this is what the powerful women of EIE are going up against:
Big Business with Big Consequences
The illegal trade in wildlife is worth an estimated R264-billion a year (from $19-billion) putting it in the same league as the drugs, arms and human trafficking trades.
The sale of illegal wildlife products, specifically ivory in East Africa, is known to be funding terrorism and the illicit drug trade. The consequences of ivory trafficking are extraordinary with the entire region affected, from political destabilisation to a rapid decline in biodiversity.
It’s the fastest growing illegal trade globally.
Big Weapons and Big Profits, at even Bigger Costs
The most common poaching gun in East Africa is the AK47. According to gun policy officials, the going rate for a gun in Kenya is between R1 400 and R1 800.
The money that can be made from just one elephant tusk is up to R3 330.
There’s also the human cost: every year sees an increase in the number of game rangers killed in the line of duty trying to protect the animals. The plight of the Rangers was highlighted again on 31 July, when the world honoured wildlife protectors on #WorldRangerDay.
WATCH: South Africans pay tribute to Ranger heroes on #WorldRangerDay
If you'd like to help the EIE, you can 'donate an elephant to save an elephant'.
You can also:
- Donate money to organizations like Save the Elephants and WildAid
These organisations are affecting change both in Asia (to reduce demand among consumers), and in Africa (to help protect elephants in the wild from poachers).
- Visit the national parks of Africa where elephants still live
Kruger, Chobe, Gorongosa, Mana Pools, Hwange, Addo Elephant, and Etosha. Your tourism money provides a valuable source of income and employment for local communities, many of which have to live in close – and sometimes dangerous - proximity to elephants.
- Speak up
Talk to your friends, your family and your colleagues. Spread awareness.