By Alexandra Strausman
“Battle for the Elephants,” National Geographic’s 2013 film screened in Mitchell Hall Thursday night. The film portrayed the effects of the illegal ivory trade and elephant poaching in Africa.
“Battle for the Elephants,” which takes an inside look at the illegal ivory trade in African and China, was screened Thursday in Mitchell Hall as part of Institute for Global Studies’ (IGS) first annual Global Month. The film was produced by National Geographic and Delaware native Katie Carpenter.
Associate Director for Global Outreach at IGS Amy Foley said she found Carpenter’s film to be very accessible and one that could resonate with the students.
“It’s the responsibility of the Institute for Global Studies to help educate our students about issues that impact the world,” Foley said.
Elephants are a symbol of Africa’s wealth and heritage, but with 70 elephants poached each day for the ivory in their tusks, they are faced with extinction, according to the film. By 1913, the United States was consuming 200 tons of ivory per year while elephant populations dropped to 10 million. By 1979, populations fell to 1.3 million and then to 600,000 by 1986, according to the film.
When the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) banned international ivory trade in 1990, the elephant population rose to 1 million, according to the film. At that time, Kenya lit $3 million worth of ivory on fire as a symbolic gesture. However, the domestic sale and use of ivory have created the illegal ivory trade, according to the film.
In a turn of events, investigative journalist Aidan Hartley was granted film access to the ivory room in Tanzania for the first time since the ban. Valued at over $50 million, Hartley said the room looked like a memorial recording the end of the elephant in the wild.
The last three years have seen a loss of more than half the elephant population, leading Hartley to question whether this should be called “genocide.” In Kenya, rangers are trained with the help of wildlife conservationist Richard Leakey to secure the protection of elephants and their anti-poaching policies.
According to the National Fund for Animal Welfare, only 16 percent of ivory sold in China is legal, making 84 percent of the ivory inventory in the shop that investigative journalist Bryan Christy was in illegal.
Trade between China and Africa has jumped from $6 billion to over $100 billion per year, according to the film. Eighty percent of China’s middle class owns one or more pieces of ivory.
The New York Times reported Chinese officials, including President Xi, are accused of smuggling ivory from Africa to China as recently as last week. When Xi visited Dar es Salaam on official business, it is rumored that he left with cargo full of ivory that had doubled in price, Carpenter said.
According to a survey cited by Carpenter, ivory customers felt that their purchases were symbols of wealth and power.
Local Delawarean Lois Morris came to the film to understand the elephant situation in Africa.
“I wasn’t a big fan of ivory to start with but now I think it’s a distasteful item,” Morris said after the screening.
The only realistic solution to the elephant extinction problem is if the Chinese government says no to ivory, according to National Geographic.
In the film, Christy asked a wealthy Chinese businessman, who had invested a fortune into ivory, his view on relationship between elephants and ivory. The man responded by saying that elephants are friends and that when they die they devote their tusk to the humans.
They smile down on the people knowing that they will celebrate the Buddha, he said. Believing this to be spiritual, the Chinese seek to hold onto ivory art-making as part of their culture.
Carpenter hopes to encourage students to fight for the animals whose products are voraciously being consumed around the world.
“Animals like the elephant who are so endangered they’re actually on the brink of extinction must be fought for or the market will take them away from us,” Carpenter said.