Gavin Tollman, CEO of Trafalgar, reflects on the parlous state of the king of beasts
The lion may be deemed "king of the jungle" but, without question, it is the elephant that boldly, silently and majestically commands the crown of king of all beasts.
I have always admired elephants. I recall with vivid clarity, back in 1995, being woken with abruptness by a large bull elephant alarmingly close to my tent at Chikwenya Safari Lodge, Zimbabwe. There was nothing but a sheet of canvas between us. A deep, raw, sensation engulfed me: be silent, be respectful, enjoy every single second as, after all, you're not going anywhere until he has finished eating and decides to move on.
Being this close to an elephant, you cannot help but be overawed by their dramatic presence; their delicate might, their natural splendour and spirituality. For me, there is no other animal in the world that compares. They are unique. To observe their intelligence, compassion and intuitive care for one another, to hear their gentle rumble in the distance, to feel the sheer force yet grace of their being, stays with you forever.
This fascination with elephants remains. As individual creatures, and as a collective boldness of herd, they inspire a profound appreciation.
To this day, whenever I am on safari — whether on the banks of Zimbabwe's great Zambezi River, amid the breathtaking beauty Botswana's Okavango Delta or at random watering holes in South Africa's iconic Kruger Park — I always set aside time to observe and absorb the behaviour of these imposing animals.
Today is World Elephant Day. It is a day that fills my heart with sadness. Why? Because it symbolises the risk these great creatures face. World Elephant Day was designated for one simple reason: This remarkable species was disappearing at a rate of one every 15 minutes, according to the globally respected Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation.
Worryingly, this day is now critical because of significant government changes. In March, the Trump administration quietly reversed regulations put in place by President Obama that banned Americans from importing body parts of African elephants killed for the sport in Zimbabwe and Zambia. This despite Donald Trump himself branding big-game trophy hunting as a "horror show".
In June Botswana — home to more than a third of the elephants left in Africa and, unlike many of its Southern African neighbours, a place that banned trophy hunting in 2014 — indicated that the commercial ivory trade might be legalised. History is being rewritten, in a way that is not inscribing a future of which we can feel proud.
How can we call our world civilised when we are initiating a direct threat on some of the greatest gifts from Mother Nature? Elephants are endangered only because of humans. Humans have been hunting these stately yet defenceless creatures for ivory for centuries, not to mention destroying their natural habitat. It's estimated there are a mere 415,000 elephants left in the wild of Africa — a shameful decline from the 3.5 million+ that freely, confidently and innocently walked the continent's great lands at the beginning of the 20th century. If this abhorrent behaviour continues there will be no wild elephants within our lifetime. Unthinkable. Their fate is in our hands.
Because many people are out of touch with the natural world, they don't see that effect we have and don't understand the processes of the natural world that makes it of crucial importance to the future of humanity.
The message is clear. If it's left as is for elephants to battle the ongoing threats from humans, there's no question about it — they would lose. We need to unite as humanitarians, be proactive global citizens and ensure that we do our utmost to preserve and protect these incredible creatures in the wild, for future generations. The time to make a difference is now.
Let us ensure we are the generation that halted the decline of the herbivorous heroes and made a difference to these great grey animals.
Ethical elephant tourism
All is not yet lost, but it soon could be. I urge everyone to play their part and offer some simple steps to tread in the right direction
- Visit elephants in countries where they live in the wild — tourism benefits the economy, provides needed jobs, deters poachers and abuse, and gives you the opportunity to appreciate the beauty, intelligence and emotional capacity of these magnificent giants.
- Do not, under any circumstances or levels of persuasion, buy ivory or other wildlife products. Be an elephant-aware consumer.
- Only promote or travel with safe, ethical elephant tourism organisations. Do not support those that exploit or abuse elephants and other animals for entertainment and profit
- Actively support healthy, alternative, sustainable livelihoods for people who have traditionally relied on elephants, wild animals and natural resources. Learn about indigenous cultures that have lived in harmony with elephants. And support organisations working to protect the habitat for wild elephants and finding solutions for human-elephant conflict.
World Elephant Day is observed on August 12, dedicated to the preservation and protection of the world's elephants