By Jamie Joseph
It beggars belief. Per capita, New Zealanders are among the world’s worst offenders for ivory imports. Jane Goodall is asking us to stop. Jamie Joseph met her in Auckland.
Jane Goodall visited New Zealand as part of her 80th birthday world tour, a celebration of sell out shows and standing ovations. Arguably the most recognised living scientist and conservationist; she is supported by millions of people around the globe who see her as an oracle for the future and an inspiration for all.
In 1986, at a conference that brought into view the mass destruction of natural habitats by humans, and the decimation of animal populations, the dreamer who had become a scientist came to the realisation that she could no longer go back to her quiet life with the chimpanzees in Tanzania's Gombe Forest.
She decided to confront the world face-to-face, and so she became an activist and began travelling throughout the world, challenging everyone she meets to be caretakers of the planet.
And now, with the African poaching crisis at its worst ever, with an elephant killed every 15 minutes, Jane Goodall is calling on New Zealanders to play their role in saving the elephants from looming extinction.
Her visit last month was timely because a petition has just been lodged with the New Zealand Government requesting a ban on all ivory trade.
Spearheaded by Auckland teacher Virginia Woolf, and supported by environmental policy analyst Fiona Gordon, the report states that on a per capita basis for ivory carving imports from 2009 to 2012, New Zealand easily tops the United States, the world's second largest consumer of ivory after China.
New Jersey and New York were neck and neck last month in the race to be the first U.S. states to ban ivory, and last month in Hong Kong officials began destroying a stockpile of nearly 30 tonnes of ivory seized from smugglers.
"Elephants suffer and they feel pain, and they have long term supportive bonds between family members," Goodall says. "So it's not just a species facing extinction, its massive individual suffering."
New Zealand's role in the trade of ivory makes the country complicit in this crisis, and the petition is calling on the government to strengthen laws and fix loopholes that are encouraging illicit trade.
Elephants are continually put at risk by the prospect of a sanctioned sale of ivory whether in conventional auction houses such as Webbs Auction House in Auckland, or via internet trading sites such as Trade Me.
"Every ivory bracelet, pendant or trinket represents a dead elephant," Goodall says.
"The problem is that as long as there are loopholes for selling ivory legally, the illegal trade will continue. A total ban on the sale of ivory is the only way forward. Social media can amplify the message and put pressure on your government, and ultimately it is up to us to give a voice to the voiceless."
Every day is a bad day for elephants, but last month especially people around the world are mourning the death of Satao, Kenya's legendary tusker, and one of the few remaining elephants whose tusks were so big they almost touched the ground.
With so much death around him, the mighty Satao knew the poachers were after his tusks, and he had taken to awkwardly zig-zagging between bushes, burying his tusks into each bush, sniffing the air for poachers before moving on.
For the past 18 months Kenya Wildlife Services and Tsavo Trust jointly monitored Satao's movements using aerial reconnaissance and deploying ground personnel in his home range. But with resources stretched to the limit, by the time they got to Satao, his face had already been hacked off.
"There is that saying: 'we haven't inherited the planet from our parents, we borrowed it from our children'," Goodall says. "But borrow means you plan to pay back, and we've been stealing. And that is why I am working so hard with youth to create a critical mass of young people empowered to be guardians of our natural world. They are my hope for the future."
Jamie Joseph is a writer and an environmental activist. She grew up in South Africa and emigrated to New Zealand in 2009. In October she will be returning to her homeland to join the war on poaching. She will be blogging every day, spending 30 days with rangers risking their lives for rhinos and elephants.