National Geographic Society Newsroom

On the March in Washington, D.C., for Elephants and Rhinos

The Global March for Elephants and Rhinos brought together people in 130 cities worldwide (90 more cities than last year) on Saturday, October 4, 2014. The march in Washington, D.C., assembled at the Lincoln Memorial and set off at noon, along Constitution Avenue, swinging left on 15th street. At E Street, we struck up a...

IMG_8959_start of march by lincoln memorial
The historic rally began at the Lincoln Memorial at noon. Photograph (c) Katarzyna Nowak

The Global March for Elephants and Rhinos brought together people in 130 cities worldwide (90 more cities than last year) on Saturday, October 4, 2014.

The march in Washington, D.C., assembled at the Lincoln Memorial and set off at noon, along Constitution Avenue, swinging left on 15th street. At E Street, we struck up a rousing chorus: “E is for Elephant, not Extinction!”

And: “1, 2, 3, 4, ivory’s what they’re dying for…5, 6, 7, 8, stop the trade, it’s not too late!”


IMG_9195_John Beacher sings into megaphone
John Beacher, singer-songwriter, sings “Elephant Call” through a megaphone held by Ann Lewis, Treasurer of Elephants D.C. Photograph (c) Katarzyna Nowak
IMG_9153_say no to ivory
Marchers! Photograph (c) Katarzyna Nowak
IMG_9138_stop ivory
Marchers! Photograph (c) Katarzyna Nowak
IMG_9103_not a bracelet
Marchers! Photograph (c) Katarzyna Nowak
IMG_9097_stand for eles sign
Marchers! Photograph (c) Katarzyna Nowak


Passing the White House, we arrived at Lafayette Park, where a podium was draped in banners and a poster, “One Every 15 Minutes” (the rate at which elephants are currently being killed).

Jen Samuel, President of Elephants D.C. and the lead organizer of the march, took to the stage.

“We are calling our lawmakers to ban ivory trade on this World Animal Day! We are marching against extinction! There are elephant orphans from The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust marching today with their keepers in Nairobi!”


IMG_9281_Jen Samuel (organizer & Pres Eles DC at podium)
Jen Samuel, President of Elephants D.C. commences the speeches on Lafayette Square. Photograph (c) Katarzyna Nowak
IMG_9289_John Beacher sings for eles
John Beacher on stage with “Elephant Call”. Photograph (c) Katarzyna Nowak


Jen then introduced singer-songwriter John Beacher, who launched the rally with his tune “Elephant Call,” which “came to him on Wednesday” and is about more than elephants and ivory. “It’s about social justice,” he said.


IMG_9436_couple with sign listening to speakers
Onlookers listen to talks by Senator Lesniak, Allan Thornton, Andy Dobson, Wayne Pacelle, Asher Jay and Raj Mukherji. Photograph (c) Katarzyna Nowak


Samuel then invited Senator Raymond J. Lesniak (D-N.J.) onto the stage.


NJ Senator 'ivory is for elephants'
Senator Raymond Lesniak shouts “Elephants need their ivory!” Photograph (c) Katarzyna Nowak


Senator Raymond Lesniak

“When I come back from China, I’m going to California! Dr. Martin Luther King, whose monument stands not too far from here, said that the arc of the moral universe is long, but that it bends towards justice. We are going to make it bend more quickly for justice of elephants’ right to exist on this Earth!”


IMG_9115_Allan Thornton
Allan Thornton of the Environmental Investigation Agency, one of the key players that pushed for the vital ivory trade ban in 1989 (and again, now!). Photograph (c) Katarzyna Nowak


Allan Thornton, Environmental Investigation Agency

Thornton reminded the marchers that in 1989, at the seventh CITES Conference of the Parties in Lausanne, Switzerland, the majority voted in favor of protecting Africa’s elephants. “There were 1,000 people in the room, and someone started clapping their hands in the back after the ban was formalized. Then more and more people began to clap, until the room was filled with thunderous applause. After thousands of years of ivory trade, it was finally banned!

People now say that the rhino ban doesn’t work; however, we at EIA found that rhino horn trade was thriving after the ban in countries like Taiwan, China, and South Korea. We followed the leads and trails, and the long and short of it is that the president of Taiwan announced a domestic ban on rhino horn trade three days after EIA launched its campaign in London, and in mainland China the State Council issued a ban on all domestic rhino horn trade (and tiger bone trade), causing a huge reduction in demand for rhino horn worldwide. Sometime after that, a WWF colleague of mine said that rhino horn populations were stabilizing.”

It was thanks to these campaigns, Thornton added.

That is, until now. Criminal syndicates have gotten out of hand in South Africa, where corruption, bribes, and the drug trade have led to a loss of control over rhino protection.

“Poaching has shot up from seven animals per year to 1,000 rhinos last year. This is a tragic loss of a species that has been in our world for millions of years—and killed for what? A horn, a tusk? These animals are worth more alive than dead!”


Zach on drums, Professor Andy Dobson, and MariAnne, who endured the entire afternoon’s sun to personify an elephant. Photograph (c) Katarzyna Nowak


Professor Andy Dobson, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University

Dobson has worked on large mammals in East Africa for more than 20 years. He said, “Let me tell you about elephants. They are iconic in so many ways. They are indeed the icon of one of the two political parties in this land. They are the ultimate feminist icons, living in a matriarchy throughout their lives. And male elephants? Well, they are the ultimate epitome of male vigor—because of their huge ivory tusks, which, among other uses, they use to fight for access to those females. Why would anyone want to take these tusks away from them?”

Dobson then incited the crowd.

“If your last name begins with the letters E, L, P, H, A, N, T, raise your hands! You would be the only survivors of all elephants that were here at the start of the century. If your name begins with I, V, O, R, Y, raise your hands! You are the elephants left in the forests of Central and West Africa. Now put your hands in the air if your names begin with “N” or “O.” You are the only elephants we will have left soon if we don’t say “No to Elephant Ivory”!”

He ended with, “It is humbling to speak here today. But we have to do more. We have to put things into motion. Speeches were made along the route that we walked today that changed the face of history—the face of the world. Speeches about slavery, which was intricately linked to the ivory trade, just as terrorism is linked to the ivory trade today.

But we need to change the way we think of ivory today and more broadly, the way we consider all biodiversity. If we don’t protect biodiversity, then humans will go too. You are more dependent on biodiversity than you are on any of the bills passed in Congress!”


IMG_9369_Pacelle giving speech
Wayne Pacelle of The Humane Society of the United States praising Senator Lesniak’s animal welfare initiatives. Photograph (c) Katarzyna Nowak


Wayne Pacelle, Humane Society of the United States

Pacelle started off by praising Senator Lesniak as “not only the guy who shepherded the bill to ban the ivory trade in New Jersey but also the person who worked to ban horse slaughter and who is trying to ban factory farming of pigs.”

“We’re grateful to him!” Pacelle shouted.

“This is the hundredth year anniversary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon in the United States. There were once millions that darkened the sky. Within three or four decades, they went from millions to extinction. What an embarrassing legacy that is for us!

Now we are facing this crisis of elephants, the biggest land mammal left on Earth. We cannot let this happen! This is an issue of mercy and decency. But it is also about the future of Africa. Billions of dollars are generated because people love to see African wildlife.

Kenyan, Tanzanian, South African and so many other economies depend on wild species. We are here because elephants have a rightful place in this world and should not be killed for trophies and trinkets. There should be no one standing in the way of progress to ban trade in these animals!

Elephants need their ivory!” The crowed chimed in: “Elephants need their ivory! Elephants need their ivory!”


IMG_9422_Asher Jay w one of her signs
Asher Jay, a 2014 National Geographic Emerging Explorer, holds up one of the signs she designed. Photograph (c) Katarzyna Nowak


Asher Jay, 2014 National Geographic Emerging Explorer

“I want to cover one thing today that has been occupying my mind as of late, and that is that the USFWS recently announced a “crushed ivory design challenge”. This is something that I’m strongly opposed to!

For over two years now, I’ve been trying to raise awareness about the ivory trade. Not once did I think I needed crushed ivory to do that. If we can’t think of better solutions, then we’re not good artists, and we’re not responsible designers.

The raw materials you use in creating educational awareness matters just as much as the cause you’re trying to disseminate. In lieu of which, I started an online petition on Avaaz.

I’m not a person who likes to create more divisions among us, because it’s hard enough to get people together to do something. So I’m not doing this to prove a point or prove I’m right and somebody else is wrong. I want to have an inclusive, insightful, and informed discussion. If we were to do that, we’d very quickly realize the hypocrisy behind what’s being proposed.

With the USFWS challenge, we create an “us” versus “them” paradigm. With this challenge, what we’re saying is that it’s okay for “us” to use ivory in one way but not okay for “them” to use it in another. Zero tolerance policy is what’s needed. We need to restructure this challenge—create a memorial—cremate these elephant remains.

One solution I’ve suggested is a worldwide memorial consisting of elephant footprints. Every country with a stockpile cremates it and creates a footprint to represent that these majestic creatures once roamed over much larger areas than they do today. These footprints would act as a reminder of the global trade route for blood ivory and help us to stay on track with our conservation goals. We cannot afford to lose elephants. Keep pushing forward!”


Raj Mukherji, Assemblyman in the New Jersey Legislature, discusses the challenges he faced in pushing for an ivory ban in the State of New Jersey. Photograph (c) Katarzyna Nowak


Assemblyman Raj Mukherji of the New Jersey Legislature

Finally, Samuel introduced Mukherji, who authored the legislation Senator Lesniak championed. “It was the Indian Buddhist scholar Kantilal,” Mukherji said, “who remarked several generations ago that a king who always cares for elephants like his own sons is always victorious and will enjoy the friendship of the celestial world after death. And Cicero noted that the elephant has a fellowship with the human race.

We are now witnessing the alarming loss of 96 elephants a day. Since the time we left the Lincoln Memorial earlier today, seven wild elephants were killed for mere trinkets. And while today we may teach our children that “E” is for elephant and not extinction, and kids can identify Horton (Hears a Who) as a living creature, tomorrow’s children—at this rate if we don’t act now to close the ivory markets completely—could grow up thinking of Horton as a dinosaur, a beautiful creature that once was but was driven to extinction so that people could profit and fund terrorism activities.

In my home state of New Jersey, I was asked to tone down my bill. Why are you messing around with rhinos, hippos, walruses, and whales if your bill is about elephants? I was asked.

Because when it comes to conserving wild species, there can be no compromises! We cannot distinguish mammoth fossilized ivory from illegal ivory. We cannot easily distinguish illegal from legal ivory.

Grassroots advocacy matters! It’s not enough to march, to tweet. You have to go home and continue to act, or otherwise you’re well-intentioned neutrals. You have all the influence you need. We are not powerless.

Let me end on an anecdote on the process in New Jersey. At first, my bill was ignored. Then it was thought of as “cute.” Then, once the issue of trafficking was raised, and it emerged that ivory is being used to fund terrorist activities—and poses a threat to national security—then action was mobilized.

These stages that we went through—that I’d like you to bear in mind in your home state—remind me of something Mahatma Gandhi said: First, they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then…you win!”

Asher Jay rose to the stage again to end on a story once told to her by Simon Trevor. It’s a story from the Nairobi bush:

One evening while Simon was having dinner on his veranda with a group of guests, a family of elephants aggregated at a nearby watering hole. Simon’s guests, not accustomed to wildlife getting close, became unsettled as the elephants started to approach. The matriarch moved up, faced the house and advanced toward it rapidly. She then reached across the first row of guests—and rubbed one woman’s wrist before pulling back and retreating. No one knew what had happened. Until they realized that the woman was wearing an ivory bracelet from 50 years ago.

“Elephants are connected to each other! Do everything you can!” Asher urged us.

After the March

Discussion continued into the evening at Studio Gallery D.C. The highlights included a promise by Mukherji that he and Senator Lesniak would keep going with an eye on the goal of convincing 11 states in total to ban ivory by 2015.

Iris Ho, Program Manager for Humane Society International (HSI), told us how HSI has been partnering with groups in China to, among other things, organize an event parallel to the Global March: a “cycle for elephants” across Shandong Province.

Finally, Asher Jay reminded us that, “stories are being lost, as species are being lost. We are unplugging ourselves from the system of life. Trafficked wildlife products perpetuate death. If we want to live, it is in our best interest to protect everything that is living.”

About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 14,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit or follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Meet the Author

Katarzyna Nowak
Katarzyna Nowak is a conservation scientist affiliated with the Zoology Department at the University of the Free State, Qwaqwa, South Africa. She has spent fifteen years researching and writing about the behavior and conservation of wild monkeys and elephants, and human-wildlife interactions. She helped establish and advises the Southern Tanzania Elephant Program. She's currently based in Colorado's Front Range. Photo credit: Trevor Jones