by Amanda Loviza
HURLEYVILLE – Fortunately rain is a symbol of good luck in Africa, because it was a rainy Saturday when the Hurleyville Arts Centre hosted the African Wildlife Foundation for a discussion about the ravages of ivory trafficking.
Hurleyville Arts Centre and AWF hosted a screening of the Leonardo DiCaprio documentary, “The Ivory Game,” on May 13, followed by a panel discussion about ivory trafficking and the declining African elephant population. The event was held in conjunction with a conservation-themed art exhibit across the street in Gallery 222, curated by Six Summit Gallery.
AWF is very optimistic about the progress being made to cut down poaching and the ivory trade, AWF President Kaddu Sebunya said, but there is a lot more work to be done to ensure African elephants continue to roam the continent. Mr. Sebunya led the panel alongside AWF Vice President for Species Protection Philip Muruthi and AWF Director for Program Design Jimmiel Mandima, with moderator Craig Sholley, the senior vice president of AWF.
Africa has been experiencing a poaching crisis since 2007, Mr. Muruthi said, and if the current population decimation rates continue, all elephants would be erased from the continent within 15 years. It’s a dire situation, Mr. Muruthi said, but new policies put in place in the U.S. by the Obama administration, and in China and the United Kingdom, could go a long way toward curbing ivory trafficking once they are fully in place at the end of this year.
“The Ivory Game” followed activists’ and investigators’ efforts to track one of the most infamous ivory traffickers in Africa, highlighting the dangers of the war against poaching. Wildlife trafficking, including elephants, rhinos and other endangered species, is a $20 billion industry, driven by demand from people who want decorative ivory products or believe a rhino horn has medicinal properties. AWF is working to educate people in China, Vietnam and other countries about the global harm done when these animals are killed. The organization is also focused on putting more boots on the ground in Africa to find and stop poachers from killing the animals or being able to transport them for sale.
As an organization largely led by Africans, Mr. Muruthi said that AWF is working to get African governments to understand the economic value of conservation, and how protecting Africa’s natural resources will benefit all Africans by increasing tourism and providing better opportunities.
“Africa has been endowed with wildlife,” Mr. Muruthi said. “This is what we have to make our brand…I like to believe that conserving wildlife and wild spaces is conserving me.”
Richard Chiger, a Monticello resident and retired teacher who himself gives talks about elephants, said he was thrilled to have such an enlightening event take place in Hurleyville. More people need to understand what’s happening to elephants and what needs to be done to protect them in the future, Mr. Chiger said.
“This was beautiful,” Mr. Chiger said. “These people are really passionate, and they’re going to do some good.”