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Fighting the ivory trade

When our group was founded in October 2013, elephants were being massacred across Africa at the rate of 100 each day. There was little media coverage, there were few laws against poaching, and there was no political will to save them. No one was speaking out against China and its hunger for ivory, so, with our group just a few weeks old, we gathered outside the Chinese embassy in London and held our first protest to put China under the spotlight. Our protest gained media coverage in national newspapers and on ITV News. 

Demonstration outside the Chinese Embassy

Our first protest at the Chinese embassy, London, in Jan 2014

Over the next five years we held 14 protests and marches calling for bans on ivory trade. Our open letter to the Chinese premier in 2015, asking him to end China’s ivory trade, was signed by David Attenborough, Richard Leakey, Jane Goodall, and many more, and was reported in the press internationally. Our efforts were also acknowledged by Prince William in a letter to us – he was in China at the time, also addressing the ivory trade. All of this helped to draw widespread attention to the poaching crisis and ivory trade and to send a strong message to President Xi that the world was watching.

As momentum grew, it was clear that the wave of protests was having an impact. The Global March for Elephants and Rhinos held its first march in 2014, uniting thousands of people around the world in  protest against ivory and rhino horn trade, and calling for world governments to take a stand against poaching. The value of the marches was even noted the following year by the ShareAmerica government platform, which said: ‘According to experts, these marches keep political pressure on leaders to protect the world’s largest land animal.’

Sooner than anyone thought possible, both China and the US took the historic decision to end their domestic ivory trades – the US did so in 2016 and China closed its trade at the end of 2017. These historic bans, it was hoped, would offer a real lifeline for elephants.  

Protestors taking part in the London March Against Extinction

We then turned our attention closer to home. We were one of the first groups to start publicly calling out our government on the UK’s ivory trade. We held marches to Downing Street, delivered letters to the prime minister, got the media to cover our events and report on the issues, and kept up the pressure on the government to keep its manifesto promise of an ivory ban and to ensure it would be a total ban. We did battle with the antiques trade, met with its top representatives and with members of Parliament, and reported on ivory being sold in auction houses; we also had a mass campaign to encourage people to respond to the government’s consultations on the ban. Finally, on 20 December 2018, the ivory bill received Royal Assent and became law. The UK Ivory Act 2018 was seen as one of the toughest ivory bans in the world, and the government said it would come into effect late the following year. But it took another three and a half years before it came into force, in June 2022, which in practice allowed ivory owners a substantial period of time to sell their ivory before it became worthless.

Elephant with it's foot wrapped in chains

A life in chains, knowing only pain and suffering, is the fate of every temple elephant in India.

Campaign for Temple Elephants

While the UK ivory bill was proceeding through Parliament in 2018, we started campaigning for India’s temple elephants, whose treatment can be seen as the worst case of animal torture anywhere, both for its severity and duration, which is the elephant’s entire life.

We were the first and only group ever to protest publicly against India for its treatment of temple elephants. For months we engaged with NGOs and advocates in India and looked into the country’s laws; we wrote an open letter to President Modi, and held a protest outside the Indian High Commission in London. The event was covered in the national press, including exposés on the horrific cruelty, and most importantly was acknowledged in India too, prompting responses in the Indian press and from Keralans.

Protest held at the Indian high commission

AFE protest against the torture of temple elephants, held outside the Indian High Commission in London, 2018.

Also in 2018, we hosted the UK’s first screening of the film ‘Love & Bananas – An Elephant Story’ in London, with other screenings hosted by advocates in Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, and Exeter. We were delighted to welcome Lek Chailert, founder of Elephant Nature Park and organiser of the rescue portrayed in the film, and to learn first-hand of her pioneering work for captive elephants in Thailand. From our ticket sales for ‘Love & Bananas’ we raised a large sum which we donated to ENP for a future elephant rescue. When Covid-19 struck, this money was matched by a donor and used to provide food for starving elephants in Thailand who were left chained in riding camps.

Other major campaigns were our 3-year fight to send Anne, the sole elephant at Longleat Zoo, to sanctuary, which ultimately failed because Longleat refused to let her go; and our campaign to ban the import of hunting trophies to the UK (which was approved by MPs but defeated in the House of Lords).

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