ramen and pickles

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Monthly Archives: July 2014

Plan to save the African elephants

This is whole post is probably very naive and ill-informed, as it is about some things that I know nothing about, namely things like conservation, public relations, international policy, and making movies; however, maybe if there is some merit to it, maybe it will be of use to someone.

We keep hearing all about the devastating effects of the illegal ivory trade on the elephant populations of Africa.  Elephants are incredibly smart.  Not only do they have amazing memories, but also they communicate with one another.  They can even recognize different human languages.    They are wonderful, beautiful animals who live long lives if left to their own devices, but instead are being threatened with extinction in the wild.

Why is all the ivory poaching happening?  Everything I see or hear about it says that the poaching is all driven by demand from the expanding middle class in mainland China.   Ivory is a beautiful thing, and skilled artisans can make beautiful things from it, and there are a lot of Chinese people, many of whom are gaining increasing wealth and increasingly influential in the global economy.  The important thing though, is from what I can tell, the demand for ivory is largely aesthetic, in the sense that people think it looks nice.  It is something of a status symbol of wealth.  So that means demand is largely driven by social forces.  So instead of all this effort focused on Africa, trying to stop poaching with increasingly aggressive measures (making for dangerous situations with large, heavily armed poaching syndicates), work on the demand.   It’s not like drugs, where you have people addicted to a substance,; it’s just something people like having on their end-table because it is attractive and fashionable.  If there is one thing that the US is good at is influencing fashion and taste, especially through movies and shows.

I looked into it, and some conservation groups are putting adds in the Chinese market about ivory being bad.  However, what would be really influential is a big movie, with Chinese stars (and maybe a few animal loving Hollywood stars making cameos, like DiCaprio, being a “Rhodesian” again like in the movie about blood diamonds) showing elephants being super smart and lovable and saving the main character’s life (and maybe the life of his love interest too).   It could be about a Chinese ivory smuggler going to Botswana, and then after many harrowing experiences with evil ivory poachers and kindly elephants, becoming a reformed wild-life conservationist at the end.  Anyway, if it’s an Asian action movie, the plot doesn’t need to be too complex (I’m not being a hater, I love these movies, but Jin Yong level literary complexity typically does translate to the screen in anything less than a 30 episode series).  There was already a Thai movie, an action blockbuster, about a fighting hero going to rescue a baby white elephant in Australia.    So it’s not so outlandish.