Let Elephants Be Elephants

Advertising works.  We might not like it, but when it’s done well, it does.  And when it comes to stopping people buying ivory, it seems that some organisations are seeing signs of  success in reducing demand in Asia simply by letting people know that buying ivory is directly linked to the killing of elephants.  This is just the sort of hopeful story that I like to share, so read on!

Screen Shot 2013-09-06 at 1.39.53 PMLast week the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) released a study showing that as a result of their anti-ivory advertising campaign in China (“Mum I’ve got teeth”) 68% less people were now buying ivory than they were before.  IFAW did this study based on previous polling that suggested that 70% of Chinese didn’t know that ivory came from killed elephants.  Interestingly, the primary reason that people said they would now not buy ivory is a feeling of remorse for the elephants, that they didn’t want them to be killed.

Ivory carvings on sale in Bangkok markets (T. Matson, September 2012)

Ivory carvings on sale in Bangkok markets (T. Matson, September 2012)

This is really encouraging as it shows that demand reduction is possible and can be achieved through targeted awareness raising.  The full report is available here.  Apparently lots of people in Asia think the tusks of elephants fall out just like teeth and don’t realise that elephants have to be killed brutally and illegally in the wild to provide ivory carvings, jewellery and other products.  It’s a similar story to what I’ve heard in other parts of Asia, including the odd Singaporean taxi driver (“You don’t actually have to kill the elephants to get the ivory, right?”)

Nadya Hutagalung speaks about how her Kenyan trip with me gave her a deep passion for this cause

Nadya Hutagalung speaks about how her Kenyan trip with me gave her a deep passion for this cause

The report was released just before Asian TV star, Nadya Hutagalung and I spoke at the British High Commissioner’s Residence here in Singapore for the Royal Geographical Society to a sell out audience of 125+ on Monday night, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.  For the last year, after I took Nadya on her first African safari to Kenya to see the poaching first hand, we have been teaming up to pull in all our networks and friends across Asia to help us spread the word about the link between Africa’s poaching of elephants and the demand for ivory in Asia.

The author speaking at the Royal Geographic Society's event in Singapore

The author speaking at the Royal Geographic Society’s event in Singapore

If you’ve read my latest book, “Planet Elephant”, you’ll know why I’m a firm believer that the war to stop elephant (and rhino poaching) has to be won in Asia.  While there are fires being put out all over Africa, some very effective anti-poaching being done by organisations like the Big Life Foundation and the Save Valley Conservancy, and they need all the support they can get, elephant populations in some parts of Africa, like in Cameroon and other parts of central and west Africa, will probably go locally extinct in the next decade if current poaching rates continue.  The driving force behind this is the demand for elephant and rhino products (ivory and horn) in Asia – and it can be stopped!

Nadya & Tammie in Amboseli National Park, home of elephants

Nadya & Tammie in Amboseli National Park, home of elephants

Asians everywhere need to start speaking out on this.  As the host of Asia’s Next Top Model, one of Asia’s highest rating TV shows, Nadya has a huge audience in many of the countries that are either buying or transit countries for ivory.  Like me, she’s a mum and that makes us even more determined in some ways to ensure that the world we leave our kids still has wildlife in it.  Since traveling to Africa, Nadya has a huge passion for elephants and is determined to do all she can to stop the demand driving the poaching.  Our anti-ivory campaign, “Let Elephants Be Elephants” now has a name, a temporary website and a social media following on Facebook, twitter @Letelephantsbe and Instagram, so please come and like/follow us there and join the conversation.  In the coming months we’ll be sharing all sorts of things from videos through to ways you can get involved and help us spread the word, so please jump on board and share this with your friends!  This is just the beginning of a much bigger conversation…


About the Author
Dr Tammie Matson is a zoologist, author and director of Matson & Ridley Safaris.
  1. Jackie Morris

    Excited to order your new book. I’ve really enjoyed reading your others and listening to you talk at an Animal Works dinner in Sydney. I’m heading to Singapore on 18th for a week – hope you are enjoying living there. Won’t be buying any ivory!!

  2. Ali

    I think it’s great that advertising is having an impact on this poaching issue – it gives me hope! I had no idea that most Asians didn’t realise the elephants are killed; they can, and I’m sure will, really make a difference.

  3. Robert Livingstone-Ward

    Agree wholeheartedly!

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