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Saving Elephants is the New Cause Celeb

by Kristan Schiller

The elephant poaching crisis has recently drawn the attention not only of Hillary Rodham Clinton, but of royals, actors, fashion designers and sports figures the world over. Everyone from former NBA star Yao Ming to actress Kristin Davis to the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton has answered the trumpet call of the vanishing elephant.

Last year, on World Elephant Day, Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o posed with a baby elephant rescued from a poacher’s snare, broadcasting to her 3.2 million Instagram followers: “When I met [this elephant], he had to breathe through that stab wound. #notcool. 33,000 elephants are killed every year so that a few people can wear and display a few trinkets. We can do better. Be #IvoryFree @wildaid @dswt #iworry.”

And retired basketball star Yao Ming, who is an icon to the Chinese people, teamed up with actor Edward Norton in 2014 to make a one-hour Animal Planet documentary that follows his travels through South Africa and Kenya as he witnesses the devastation caused by poaching. Last April, actress Elizabeth Hurley traveled to Nairobi from London to witness the Kenyan government burn 105 tons of poached ivory in pyres in Nairobi National Park.

“The stakes are high, with only 350,000 elephants remaining in Africa, raising an alarm bell that the next generation may live in a world where wild elephants do not exist anymore,” says Jacqueline Cittone Magid, executive director of The Bodhi Tree Foundation (thebodhitreefoundation.org) and director of development and US Friends of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (sheldrickwildlifetrust.org). “Celebrities who are concerned about the plummeting numbers and understand the role and impact elephants have in the bigger picture can be effective in using their status and voices to raise awareness about the issue to their followers,” she continues, “especially the younger generation on social media.”

On a recent episode of Ellen, Hillary Clinton responded to a question from someone who raised the topic of elephants on Facebook Live, with a deeply moving story about elephants. She said that a naturalist in Kenya once told her about a dinner party he had on his veranda in Kenya that left her heartbroken. The veranda, he said, overlooked a watering hole where the elephants gathered to drink. As the guests gazed at the herd, one of the elephants approached the group and singled out a particular woman. The elephant got close and took hold of the woman’s arm–she was wearing an ivory bracelet. The creature pulled the woman toward her, looked at the bracelet and then looked deeply into the woman’s eyes. He probably wondered if he knew the animal that had perished for her bracelet. He let go of her arm and slowly walked away.

For her part, Clinton has vowed to combat international wildlife trafficking by shutting down the U.S. market for illegal wildlife products, and she has a herd of celebrities behind her. So, while it will take more than Instagram photos and documentaries to overcome this global crisis, it appears that for now, the cause celebre has become a cause celeb.

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