Why thousands rallied in support of elephants

(Video by Haley Velasco/Medill News Service)

By Katie Watkins

WASHINGTON –  For Congolese honorary park ranger Adams Cassinga, there is nothing quite like observing an elephant in its natural habitat.

“It is a feeling of peace. It is a feeling of amazement,” he said. “It's such a huge animal. If you have seen it on television, you cannot imagine how large that animal is.”

But Cassinga also has witnessed the dangers that both elephants and park rangers face due to illegal poaching. Speaking at a rally Saturday in front of the White House, he said the ivory trade continues to endanger elephants and those who try to protect them. The rally was one of numerous events held worldwide from Nepal to Canada in honor of World Elephant Day, which aims to raise awareness of the plight of Asian and African elephants due to habitat loss and poaching.

“Initially a ranger was conceived to be a herder, but in this age, facing a gruesome reality of poaching and illicit trade of tusks and other wildlife body parts, we have become soldiers,” Cassinga said. “Poaching remains a chronic, significant problem in parts of Africa, especially where wildlife management authorities are still underfunded.”

It’s estimated that less than 50,000 Asian elephants are still in existence, down from 100,000 at the start of the 20th century, according to the World Wildlife Foundation. Meanwhile, African elephants have dropped from upwards of 3 million to around 415,000, and are particularly vulnerable to poaching for ivory.

Protesters gather in front of the White House to honor elephants on World Elephant Day. (Photo by Haley Velasco/Medill News Service)

Chanting “E is for elephant, not extinction,” the demonstrators urged additional restrictions on the global ivory trade. While a federal ban implemented by then-President Barack Obama in 2016 largely prohibits the interstate trading of ivory, selling ivory within state boundaries is still unregulated in the majority of states and D.C.

“People are killing elephants for these trinkets, these tiny little things for your bedside table. What is the point of that?” said Caroline Hopkins, who attended the march with her sister. “A whole entire elephant has to be killed just so you can have a little trinket sitting on your shelf. I think that’s absolutely ridiculous.”

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