By NINA GROSSMAN – GoldStream Gazette
Founder of World Elephant Day hopes to spread awareness, add political pressure.
A Victoria-based elephant advocate hopes to end the legal trade of ivory across Canadian borders.
Patricia Sims, a conservationist and filmmaker, started her career mainly on the water, where she made films about marine life. But in 2008, her focus started to shift to one of the biggest mammals on earth.
“As I started to learn about elephants and learn about the issues, I just became mortified at what was happening to elephants. That was around the time when the ivory crisis was really starting to escalate.”
Sims has since made two elephant documentaries in Thailand and she founded World Elephant Day in 2012.
The annual day of action is hosted by a coalition of organizations including Elephanatics, the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada, Humane Society International-Canada and Toronto-based Global March for Elephants and Rhinos.
“We started World Elephant Day in answer to this escalation of poaching of elephants in Africa,” Sims said. “There’s been quite a lot of organizations worldwide that have joined together in various forms to bring awareness to the issue and to stop poaching though a number of different strategies … like legislation and policies in different countries.”
Poaching hasn’t been the only topic of Sims’ advocacy. She also works with a number of organizations on reducing habitat loss and encouraging responsible wildlife tourism.
She says strides have been made, but there is more work to do.
“For the last 10 years there’s been so many different organizations involved in doing work in many different countries,” Sims said. “There’s still a lot of work to do, we’re not finished in terms of needing to bring awareness to the issues, but people are a lot more aware.”
This year, World Elephant Day (Aug. 12) is focusing on the ivory trade – something Sims says people are often shocked to learn is still happening in Canada.
She said approximately 20,000 African elephants are killed for their tusks every year. In the ’90s, the population of elephants in Africa was estimated at 12 million – that number has been reduced to just 400,000.
“[Ivory trade] is an issue here. It’s been sort of quietly making its way into the country,” she said. “We’ve been seeing trophy elephants brought in, the trade of ivory artifacts in auctions across the country … People can come into Canada with ivory in their suitcases as personal effects.”
According to Sims, 83 trophy elephants, 434 elephant skulls and 260 elephant feet were imported to Canada between 2007 and 2016.
“Allowing the legal ivory market in Canada to continue creates demand for ivory and pathways to market illegal ivory,” she said.
The coalition hosting World Elephant Day is running an Ivory-Free Canada campaign aimed at encouraging federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna to implement legislation ending the trade.
To learn more, go to worldelephantday.org.