Let’s talk about the elephant in the room
Under the scorching hot sun, a deafening gunshot ripples across the vast Zimbabwean prairie, signaling the fall of yet another elephant. The merciless slaughtering of these majestic creatures is endless, and many other endangered species have been subjected to the same fate.
Our culture has glorified the senseless hunting of endangered animals, and we as a society have grown too accustomed to nonchalantly walking past advertisements and commercials containing images of triumphant hunters and their slain prizes.
One possible explanation for this is that we live in an extremely modernized country, where most of our wildlife can only be found in zoos. It is easy to forget that, when the advertisement times out or the commercial ends, the issue of endangered wildlife still very much exists.
Ignoring the situation is obviously not helpful, but mere vocal acknowledgement and lack of action do just as little for the cause. The endgame is that we all have our own thoughts and opinions, but it is what we choose to do with those views that will truly make a difference, specifically for wild animals. It is high time for Americans to become more politically involved, especially if definitive change is to come. We need to make our opinions heard to our country’s leaders and policymakers, because that is the most direct way to ensure that proper legislative action will be taken.
For example, the Trump administration recently lifted a ban on elephant hunting trophies from Zambia and Zimbabwe that was placed by President Barack Obama in 2014. This decision sparked national outrage, and American media was bombarded with the fury of wildlife protection agencies and organizations. What made this incident so special was not the anger of said groups—their displeasure was a given—but rather the overwhelming response from Americans of all social and economic statuses.
Social media platforms were overflowing with pictures, tweets, and posts advocating the protection of elephants. Daytime talk show host Ellen Degeneres dedicated a segment of her show to vouch for elephants and begin the #BeKindToElephants hashtag. Chelsea Clinton and actress Olivia Munn also publicly displayed their support on Twitter. Americans everywhere were uniting under the common belief that elephants should not be compromised for the sake of trophies. These proactive actions not only spread awareness for elephant protection, but also somewhat strong-armed President Trump into reinstating the ban.
Although celebrities’ strong social media presences definitely played a role in Trump’s change of mind, the fierce determination and resilience of American citizens, who refused to let this issue fly under the radar, was the main reason for the government’s actions.
The opposition to the lifted ban was also apparent in both conservatives and liberals; Americans did not allow their political stances to intervene with their intentions to act for the greater good, something that has been increasingly rare in the modern-day, cutthroat political climate. This small victory gained for elephants is just one of the many examples where the collective persistence of citizens has contributed to better policies for wildlife.
Of course, becoming more politically involved is not the only means of promoting the well-being of wildlife. Donating and advocating for causes such as the World Wildlife Fund and Knot on my Planet is another way for Americans to show their support. After all, these special interest groups are already consistently making their voices heard at Washington D.C.
Public determination can go a long way, and the controversy surrounding Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer’s senseless murder of Cecil the Lion in 2015 is a prime example. When Palmer slaughtered the well-known lion in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, there was immediate outrage from the public, similar to that displayed as a result of the elephant hunting trophy ban. Late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel cried on live television and encouraged his audience to donate to Wildcru, an Oxford University research group that was observing Cecil.
Cecil’s death was an international tragedy, but it also brought about many steps in the right direction for wildlife protection. Australia and France banned the importation of trophies, and the United States made adjustments to its Endangered Species Act. According to National Geographic, more than 40 airlines also enacted bans on importing hunting trophies.
If Cecil’s death had been casually brushed off by the public, the future of wildlife would have looked radically different. Because people took it upon themselves to urge their policymakers and to donate to pro-wildlife organizations, long-term, international progress was made.
We as American citizens and inhabitants of Earth have a greater potential to truly make a difference for wildlife, a greater difference than we may imagine. If we unite and place aside our differences, we can create a future where we can proudly say, “Not on my planet.”