Save the Elephants

09.26.13

Clinton Unites African Leaders in Her Crusade Against Poaching

Hillary Clinton has made the end of poaching her cause célèbre since leaving office. But her fight goes beyond just saving elephants. Nina Strochlic on the former Secretary of State’s new mission.

“We're now confronting the possibility of a world without elephants,” Chelsea Clinton said at the Clinton Global Initiative on Thursday in an introduction to a new commitment that has become Hillary Clinton's post-office cause célèbre: ending wildlife poaching. Last year alone, the practice took the lives of 35,000 elephants and more than one thousand rangers.

On stage with presidents from six African nations—Uganda, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Malawi, Cote d'Ivoire, and Tanzania—the former secretary of state made a three-year, $80 million pledge to halt the brutal killing of African elephants, which she said is on track to make the African forest elephant extinct within 10 years.

Warning of the “hidden terrible costs of ivory,” Clinton spoke about groups like al-Shabab, the perpetrators of the Nairobi mall terror attack this past weekend, that get their funding through poaching efforts. The black-market channels which ferry ivory from poachers are often the same used for illegal arms, drugs, and trafficked labor. In July, a few weeks after the White House announced a $10 million fund to combat poaching, it was reported that Clinton had been meeting with environmental groups to discuss initiatives and to unite her contacts in to help with the cause.

"We will not be the generation that allowed for the extinction of the magnificent African elephant," said Cristian Samper, president of the Wildlife Conservation Society. The commitment, made in partnership with the largest conservation foundations and experts like Jane Goodall and Ian Hamilton, brings together a multi-national group to enforce a moratorium on commercial exports, import, and domestic sales of ivory products until the elephant is no longer threatened by poaching. The presidents on stage with Clinton have agreed to support the effort, along with the leaders of Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Kenya, Liberia, and South Sudan.

“This has gone beyond an environmental issue; it threatens the stability of countries and blocks economic development,” said Gabon's President Ali Bongo Ondimba. He declared that last year his country burned its entire stockpile of ivory. “My government has zero tolerance for wildlife crime,” he said.

All the largest markets for illegal ivory, from Australia to Vietnam, have jumped on board to start campaigns to spread awareness. “Many people in Asia don't understand it’s not like losing a tooth, you have to kill the elephant to get the tusk,” Clinton said.