Last month WildAid, the conservation charity, launched its campaign, “The Year of the Elephant” to coincide with Chinese New Year. It urged people to swap 2016 from being its assigned Year of the Monkey to the “Year of the Elephant,” which seemed rather optimistic at the time, but the campaign gained significant traction and numerous celebrities were attracted to #JoinTheHerd.
The organization is following this up with a children’s book and video, The Great Race, to mark both World Book Day and World Wildlife Day today. The book is based on the traditional Chinese fable of the “Great Race,” which tells the story of how the 12 animals that occur in the Chinese Zodiac were chosen. With no small amount of creative license, the new version adds an elephant to the race and touchingly reveals that the animal did not make the final cut because it sacrificed its place by stopping to help a drowning cat. The book, written by Dominic Butler and Liam Riddler and illustrated by Tundra, is accompanied by a film version, narrated by journalist Sir Trevor McDonald.
“The Year of the Elephant” campaign was created by agency Grey London. Global planning partner, Aisling Ryan, explains why a gentle, whimsical, approach has been opted for, rather than the harrowing images of slaughtered wildlife we have become accustomed to seeing on social feeds. “We have tried to avoid shock tactics or finger pointing and instead tried to mobilize people around the world to take action to stop the ivory trade,” she says, and adds, “As with most cause related messaging, people tune out to depressing imagery and defeatist narratives. The Great Race was created as a celebration of the elephant.”
There is growing momentum behind a total ban on ivory sales. China, Hong Kong, the U.S. and the U.K. all made commitments last fall to ban the trade. The challenge now, Ryan says, is to keep the pressure up to ensure each country delivers on its commitments by following through with legislation. Approximately 33,000 elephants are killed for their tusks every year and some estimates conclude that at this rate the animal could be extinct within one or two decades.
A book, which adults and children can read together, is a way of bringing the message to several generations at once. “We want them to be able to share the experience of seeing elephants in the wild together,” Ryan says. “Children need to be educated to become future conservationists. It is a very relevant message for children and parents in Africa and Asia where elephant protection will literally be in their hands. We want them to grow up to be elephant protectors not ivory poachers.”
This underlines why Chinese symbolism is at the heart of the campaign, given that it is the country that has the greatest demand for ivory. Similarly, Tanzania, which is the country most affected by elephant poaching, is also a key target. “Our strategy is to help make China the elephant’s savior not its enemy,” says Ryan. “This campaign was created to unite people in Africa, in China, in the U.S., and the rest of the world.”
The first phase of the Year of the Elephant campaign gathered 325 million impressions on social media, helped by celebrities including Yoko Ono, Lupita Nyong’o, Ricky Gervais, Ellen DeGeneres, Leonardo Di Caprio, Jackie Chan, Sir Richard Branson, and Arianna Huffington. Ryan explains how it is hoped this social swell can be translated into tangible impact on the ground. “We have been gathering our herd of elephant protectors, we now need to mobilize them into action. We will be asking them to sign petitions and campaign in their respective countries to push for a ban.”
The campaign has also joined forces with other elephant conservation NGOs, such as Space for Giants, The Elephant Protection Initiative and 96 Elephants, which are all campaigning for legislative change. In addition, the organization is supporting Kenya’s President Kenyatta when he hosts the African Heads of State at the Giant’s Club Summit in Nairobi next month. The event will include the biggest ever burning of ivory.
Ryan says that 2016 is pivotal in the battle to save the elephant and could be the year that more are born than killed. “We have one clear goal–to stop the ivory trade. The trade must end. There must be no exceptions. Ivory must have no market value. This is the only way to save the elephant from extinction.”