By Sayeh Gorjifard
For any consumer, it’s hard to equate a beautifully crafted ivory statue with the bloodied corpse of the elephant poached for it. Yet in Simon Trevor‘s documentary White Gold, conservation professionals forewarn of the extinction of one of the world’s most precious creatures — all for an otherwise purely cosmetic human fancy.
Screened at the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival (October 13-19, 2014), White Gold is an exposé of the modern ivory trade and its pervasive economic, historical, political and environmental effects. Produced by conservation professionals and activists, the film documents how the global demand for ivory threatens to exterminate the wild African elephant, while arguably funding terrorist organizations. More importantly, the film reveals the beautiful and precious soul of the elephant, highlighting the right to life of all creatures.
To U.S. viewers, the effects of the ivory trade can be hard to notice, especially since most mainland elephants live in zoos. We rarely see the massacred bodies of large mammals, reminding us of the cost of consumerism.
The same truth sadly applies to China and Japan. In fact, White Gold accredits the ferocious rise in elephant slaughters with a newly revitalized market for ivory in those two countries. In 1973, after the butchering of hundreds of thousands of elephants, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) voted to ban the international ivory trade. Over time, 170 nations have come together. Yet unlike the consumers of the many nations involved, Japanese and Chinese consumers highly value ivory as a status and wealth symbol.
With great demand often comes an inevitable market to satisfy it. Pressured from Japan and China, CITES approved a “one-time ivory sale”, where ivory was temporarily auctioned legally. These legal sales have opened the floodgates to a highly organized black market that is brutal and merciless in its agenda. In the past two years alone, over one hundred thousand elephants have been slaughtered for the black market. The movie cites a huge misconception held by Chinese consumers: Over 70% of the 1.4 billion Chinese citizens believe that elephant tusks just fall out and regrow, unaware that elephants have to be slaughtered for their tusks. In a country where killing a panda is an offense punishable by death, this misconception needs to be addressed.
In a heart-wrenching scene, viewers also witness a 14-year-old elephant struggle to survive after being shot in the back by bounty hunters. What’s more sickening is that they left the elephant’s tusks intact as a warning to all conservation rangers — an indication of their willingness towards animal cruelty. While some argue that the lack of economic opportunity in many African countries fuels the black market for ivory, it’s important to look beyond purely economic explanations. Just because there is a demand for ivory does not justify any means of supply. Beth Allgood of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) also adds how, “Ivory isn’t used for anything but art or ornaments. There’s nothing that ivory is used for today that can’t be replaced with something else.”
While the film is mostly an exposé on a phenomenon beyond our borders, the final message to the average American consumer is clear: Do not buy ivory. Do not support the ivory trade.