You can do the maths: six tons of angry grey muscle versus two tons of truck. The bull elephant bellowed, kicked up great pillars of dust off the road, then charged at us, ears flared, trunk high. No room to turn – a foot either side of the jeep, the road dropped off steeply into marsh. All our driver could do was floor it in reverse, try to ignore the fast-advancing elephant and keep us out of the soup. Even the camp warden, who was with us on patrol, had eyes like saucers. I can still remember the beast’s stink, six years on. Its terror, and majesty, left their mark.
In the time between me writing and you reading this letter, another 100 African elephants will have been killed for their tusks – the slaughter is 36,000 elephants a year, now, and rising fast. The cost is human, too, which is why we have chosen to make this issue our Christmas charity appeal.
The revenue from blood ivory is fuelling war and terrorism, notably al-Shabaab, the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Janjaweed. Outgunned by the new poaching militias, wildlife rangers are losing their lives trying to protect Africa’s natural heritage. People are being killed and driven from their homes because of the demand for ivory from the booming Chinese middle-classes.
The charity we support this year, Space for Giants, is lean, nimble and makes a difference, marrying world-class researchers with African communities who live with elephants in their midst. Together they have cut illegal elephant killings by 64 per cent in the areas where they work. The charity has no paid employees or overheads in the UK, and every penny we raise will go straight to the frontline of anti-poaching, with nothing spent on administration costs.
Our coverage over the coming days will look at the challenges facing one of Earth’s most iconic and charismatic creatures, the terrible impact its slaughter is having on people and the environment, and the success of Space for Giants.
Our correspondents around the world will investigate the criminal nexus and supply lines running from the African bush to the modern ivory houses of the Far East. Please do help in any way you feel you can, be that donating (every pound will reach activists in the field), sharing knowledge of the campaign and our charity auction, and suggesting stories for our coverage. Together we can help to cut this slaughter – and the human corruption and conflict it fuels – at source.