By John F. Calvelli
Last June, more than a ton of ivory was crushed in New York City’s Times Square. With the crush, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society), and other conservation groups sought to call attention to the slaughter of 96 elephants by poachers every day in Africa and build upon a growing constituency for changes in federal law that would close loopholes enabling illegal ivory to be sold in the United States.
Actor and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger couldn’t be there for the crush, but he had a pointed and powerful message to share. To those who “think it’s okay to kill 96 of these beauties a day,” tweeted Schwarzenegger in reference to the ongoing elephant slaughter. “I’d like to chat.” The message was retweeted close to 1,000 times and was liked by more than 1.2K followers.
Since then, Arnold has become a supporter of WCS’s 96 Elephants campaign. The potential demise of the world’s largest land animal would be reason enough to care but it’s not the only one. Revenues acquired through the slaughter and trafficking of wildlife by criminal syndicates have helped to finance trade in illegal drugs and arms, fueled political instability, and – in some cases – abetted terror activities by African rebel groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army.
96 Elephants has a robust partner network of 225 organizations, including more than 125 members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, working together to raise awareness of this crisis in the media and the public policy realms. We are thrilled that Arnold Schwarzenegger has joined this effort. His participation is especially critical at a time when a new rider to a House Interior Appropriations bill seeks to thwart FWS efforts to curtail the illegal ivory trade in the U.S.
But if Arnold is new to the 96 Elephants campaign, he is hardly a newcomer to environmental conservation. Historic legislation passed during his time as Governor of California caused Newsweek to report that “California under Arnold is the 800-pound gorilla of American environmental policy.”
Since he left office, he has continued to promote state and local action to reduce pollution around the world through his R20: Regions of Climate Action. Mr. Schwarzenegger is also an executive producer of National Geographic’s Years of Living Dangerously, the Emmy-winning documentary television series focusing on global warming. Season two will send Mr. Schwarzenegger as a correspondent to China, where he hopes that his celebrity will help draw attention to critical science stories.
In the meantime, to raise awareness of the elephant poaching crisis, Arnold recently determined that if he could not make it to Times Square for its ivory destruction, he could bring the destruction of ivory to him. For the video below, his idea was to destroy one giant confiscated ivory tusk to symbolize the need to destroy – or should we say terminate – the global demand for ivory.
Luckily, when it comes blowing things up, Arnold – like elephants – has total recall. Yet while he and his pyrotechnic team had experience detonating many different things they did not know exactly how the ivory would explode. So they took precautions: everyone had to leave the set, even Arnold, and the ivory explosion was staged behind bulletproof glass. As you can see, the ivory exploded into thousands of tiny shards.
By joining the 96 Elephants campaign, Mr. Schwarzenegger has given the effort more than just considerable new muscle. Through his movie fan base and his loyal political constituency, Arnold has an opportunity to reach millions of Americans with the simple message that when it comes to Africa’s rapidly declining elephant population, we must stop the killing, stop the trafficking, and stop the demand for ivory.
[Follow this link to express your concern to Congress about the above-mentioned rider that would thwart U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service efforts to curtail the illegal ivory trade in the U.S.]