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WildAid launches ‘Year of the Elephant’ campaign on Chinese New Year

It's the Year of the Elephant. Yes, you heard me right. Over a billion people are ringing in the Year of the Monkey for Chinese New Year, so WildAid and I (and Lupita Nyong'o, Ian Somerhalder, Yoko Ono, Yao Ming, Amy Tan, and a few hundred thousand folk) are putting a twist on the zodiac calendar in hopes of shutting down the ivory trade. 33,000 elephants are slaughtered each year, more than are born, as the endangered species risks extinction. For more, read my Fusion piece. You too can ‪#‎JoinTheHerd‬!

It’s the year of the elephant.

Over a billion people will celebrate the Chinese New Year on Monday, ringing in the Year of the Monkey, so why throw in the largest living land animal?

Here’s a few reasons: because 33,000 elephants are killed every year; because more elephants are slaughtered than born each year; and because the endangered species is at risk of extinction.

WildAid just announced the first-ever “Year of the Elephant” to combat these startling statistics. The organization has put a new twist on the Chinese animal zodiac calendar with a goal of shutting down the ivory trade, the main driver of elephant poaching in Africa. This movement is in line with WildAid’s mission to end the illegal wildlife trade—including shark fins, rhino horn, elephant ivory, more–in our lifetimes by reducing global consumption through less demand and stronger enforcement. As their slogan states: When the buying stops, the killing can too.

The devastating effects of poaching are systemic: elephant population decline, orphaned babies, destruction of key economic-driver tourism, and illegal profits that bolster regional militant groups.

2016 is a critical year, as both China and the United States have made public commitments to take steps to halt domestic trade of ivory in their respective countries. Per the White House Press Office summary of President Xi Jinping’s official visit: The United States and China commit to enact nearly complete bans on ivory import and export, including significant and timely restrictions on the import of ivory as hunting trophies, and to take significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory.

“We want to ensure that the world’s eyes are on those commitments and that they are honored,” said Andrew Harmon, Communications Director for WildAid. Knowing the announcements were to go into effect this year and seeking to ensure world officials follow through, the organization collaborated with Grey London and Lovesocial to mount a new campaign: #JoinTheHerd.

Campaigners already include some world-renowned faces like NBA star Yao Ming, Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o, author Amy Tan, Actor Ian Somerhalder, Yoko Ono, Bo Derek and more. Actors, athletes, musicians, and authors have sparked tens of thousands of split-screen images and shares across Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and other digital platforms.

“Let’s ensure this happens,” Lupita Nyong’o told her 2.3 million Instagram followers. Ian Somerhalder encouraged his 7.2 million loyal fans to learn, click and #JoinTheHerd.

“It’s pretty huge. We are quite excited by the response for sure,” Harmon said, adding that the celebrity-supported campaign has quickly taken on its own character to become a viral success. “I think people were eager for something that could coalesce the interest to finally shut down the ivory trade.”

That is the goal of #JoinTheHerd: To call upon the world to close the ivory trade once and for all, and to ask for a detailed phaseout plan from the United States and China, a country which accounts for over 70% of global demand, translating into the deaths of approximately 30,000 animals a year. Hong Kong, from where large quantities of ivory are smuggled into mainland China, just made a historic announcement on action to ban the local ivory market.

“When you have a legal market, it just provides cover for illegal ivory to come in,” Harmon said.

Elephant tusks are used in traditional medicines in Asia and for ornamental decoration worldwide. The United States is not innocent on this issue; while sales have been banned in California and a bill is being considered in Vermont, people can still buy ivory throughout the majority of the country.

With a digital blitz underway, events planned in Washington, a music video coming soon, and design competition to announce, this is just the beginning of international activities for the year of the elephant. Could 2016 be the year that more elephants are birthed than killed by poachers?

You too can be ivory free. #JoinTheHerd


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