I have been quiet since I have come home from Kenya. I don’t think anybody can estimate how a trip to Africa can have an impact on you until you experience it for yourself.
During this time, the United States crushed its ivory stockpile on Thursday November 14, 2013. If you haven’t already seen or read about it, you can visit the official event website here: http://www.fws.gov/LE/elephant-ivory-crush.html.
As a passionate conservationist, something about this whole event just didn’t sit right with me. I’ll try to explain.
This past Thursday, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service played host to a press conference of sorts; specifically to highlight the crushing of tons of ivory trinkets, statues, tusks and other pieces the country had confiscated during a 25 year period. Some of the world’s most influential elephant conservationists, spokespeople and celebrities were in attendance. The event’s goal was to suggest that by destroying its stockpile, the U.S. was now more committed than ever in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade of elephant ivory. That the time had come to halt demand that is stimulated by ivory consuming countries, the illegal black market trade, as well as the poachers who participate in the killing.
Forgive me, but once again I have to highlight the fact that I had no idea that poachers read press releases or watch press events. Also, I wonder how much it cost each conservation organization to send their key luminaries to the event? One might consider if this money might have been better spent protecting the elephants that are still alive.
Press conferences are an important part of garnering publicity for events as well as for a social cause or movement. Anyone who has worked in publicity or the influence of public opinion is quite familiar with the song and dance that is required to orchestrate or participate in an event such as this. Fortunately, this event certainly generated a lot of press. But I will use my previous public relations experience to carefully provide an opinion.
Today, leading conservationists continue to message about death and destruction, loss and losing, war and the need to fight in order to generate awareness about a crisis or issue that needs to be addressed. These are compelling and accurate messages that can importantly, as in the case of elephant poaching, educate those who are not aware of the current ivory crisis. It is indeed vital to communicate this.
Left to right: Dan Ashe – Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Judith Garber – Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Department of State, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs; Ginette Hemley – Senior Vice President, World Wildlife Fund – U.S.; Azzedine Downes – President and CEO, International Fund for Animal Welfare; David J. Hayes – Former Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior; Kristin Davis – Actress and Patron for the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust; Dr. Paula Kahumbu – CEO of WildlifeDirect; Joely Fisher – Actress and IFAW Ambassador; Kristin Bauer – Actress and IFAW Ambassador; Robert G. Dreher – Assistant Attorney General, Department of Justice; Photo credit: USFWS
But what happens when the message continues to be about death and destruction, loss and losing, war and the need to fight? It is almost as if we are sending an affirmation of sorts out into the universe that commits all of our psychic energy in the direction of “we are losing the war.”
Messages or verbal affirmations like this makes people feel hopeless that they can indeed change the outcome. We end up saying “so why should we try?”
I have had conversations the past few days with some incredibly brilliant women who also agree with this concept. I will use an example to illustrate. How many times have you seen the Humane Society of America or ASPCA commercials on television and have to turn the channel? Is it because your heart gets ripped out of your chest and you end up balling in the middle of a great show you were just watching a few seconds ago?
I have done it, so many times. And I am passionate about animals.
The truth is I can’t bear to see the pain, the suffering, the abuse – it destroys me and often for days after I see it. So I turn the channel because I have to remain glued together and intact emotionally. It might sound crazy, but this simple change of the channel keeps me even keeled and keeps the “darkness” away.
The reality is that darkness exists in the world and will continue to do so. In my case, this can make me question if I will ever be able to make a real difference at all. It is almost as if it pushes me into a paralyzed state of “it won’t matter if I try because I will fail to fight it.”
I get the sense that hearing messages about how many elephants have died and continue to die, seeing the images of hacked off tusks, babies standing next to their dead mothers grieving gets a bit like the reaction to the Humane Society ‘s commercials. At some point, we just have to turn the channel because we can’t bear to watch. And when we can’t bear to watch, the animals lose, as do we, the love, assistance and care that are so important to setting the matter straight. We lose because we become paralyzed and hopeless.
I have to accept that I have been guilty of this as I am one to post images of the death, destruction, suffering and loss with African elephants. But I also have tried to be cautious, to honor the possible emotional reactions of those who are like me with some words of what we can do and some of the organizations who are in place and making a real difference. Ultimately, some dark images are necessary to be influential, but it is the more astute person who recognizes that the strongest message is the one of hope – the one of how many lives are being saved, the photo of the peaceful animals that no longer live in fear, and children who appreciate their heritage, the land, water, resources and cultures that enable this co-existence to flourish within their local communities.
These are the images I want to see and they are the words I want to express. This is the light that casts out the darkness.
Let’s not crush the hope and the light that resides within each one of us that indeed, what we think, can envision, and can do will truly make a difference in the world today for all animals.
I hope the world’s conservationists are listening.