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Saving elephants is no game

AAP logoAAP 6/11/2016 Sarah Marshall

Sensitive, intelligent and caring, elephants are one of the world's most enigmatic creatures. Yet a heinous ivory trade means there's every chance the African elephant could be heading for extinction in the next two decades.

In an impassioned speech given at The Shard in London in September, Prince William warned that unless drastic action is taken, they could disappear completely by the time his daughter, Princess Charlotte, reaches 25.

New feature-length documentary, The Ivory Game, which premiered on Netflix on November 4, brings a new urgency to the topic.

Directed by Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani, and exec-produced by actor and conservationist Leonardo DiCaprio, it follows dangerous underground investigations to uncover the illegal trade in China, and celebrates the work of dedicated conservationists in Africa, who are working close with communities to save the species.

Taking the viewer on an emotional rollercoaster journey through anger, frustration and sadness, it's an honest story that doesn't hold back, and is one of the most vital pieces of conservation cinema of modern times.

Ian Craig, director of conservation at Kenya's Northern Rangelands Trust, features prominently in the film.

Conservancies in Lewa and NRT are part of an anti-poaching success story in Kenya, with the number of elephants killed dropping more than 50 per cent since 2012.

He cites community engagement as one of the key factors underpinning this achievement.

"If I had a clean sheet of paper, I'd say we need to change how we look at communities," he says, speaking about how anti-poaching efforts could be improved across Africa.

"Enable them to drive conservation. We have lots of land for wildlife but it needs someone to own it and care for it in order to flourish."

Economic development is clearly connected to that, which is where tourism comes in.

Craig has been heavily involved in two new community projects in Northern Kenya, which are set to attract more visitors to this "untapped" region.

A new elephant orphanage in the Namunyak Conservancy is the first community-owned project of its kind in Africa.

Keepers from San Diego Zoo have trained local people to care for baby elephants with the intention of eventually re-wilding them. Tourists are invited to see the elephants and learn about the project.

In February 2017, neighbouring Sera Community Conservancy will be unveiling a very exciting project in collaboration with the new Saruni lodge, granting visitors the opportunity to track black rhino on foot.

Both projects illustrate how community engagement and tourism can be a powerful force in protecting wildlife.

In The Ivory Game, Andrea Crosta, from wildlife crime whistle-blowers WildLeaks, states the future survival of elephants lies in the hands of one man - the Chinese President, Xi Jinping.

Ian Craig agrees. "The day that China implements a full ban on the trade of ivory, poaching will drop significantly.

"Personally, I have total confidence that in the next two or three years we're going to see a total ban."

It's a positive outlook on an issue so long mired in despondency.

Next month, when Prince William presents the annual Tusk Awards, honouring conservationists in Africa, the subject of elephant poaching will no doubt be addressed again. Perhaps now he'll be more hopeful that his grandchildren will get a chance to see these wonderful animals in the wild.

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