Justin Gosling has worked in enforcement for 21 years and specialises in environmental crime. A former British police detective and INTERPOL intelligence officer, he worked as a Senior Investigator for EIA from 2006, conducting investigations into the ivory and tiger trade in Africa and Asia. He currently works as a consultant on law enforcement and criminal justice to the United Nations Environment Programme.
Elephants are in serious trouble. In the past few years, we have seen increasing evidence of poaching on a scale unseen in decades. Enforcement responses are struggling to keep up while criminals make big profits. There is every reason to believe that the killing of elephants for their ivory will continue to worsen.
This Sunday (April 14), I’ll run a marathon to raise funds for the Environmental Investigation Agency. I would like the funds to go towards their activities to protect elephants against the threat of trade in ivory, something EIA has been working on for decades.
I’m pretty sure there will be pain involved in my 26-mile run, as there has been pain over the past 18 weeks training. So why go through that for EIA? And why elephants?
Firstly, there’s the crime issue. Elephants are poached for their ivory to feed a market controlled by organised criminals. Having worked in the area of enforcement and wildlife crime for over 20 years, I feel quite frustrated about the threat criminals are posing to wildlife. I don’t hold consumers responsible as much as those who control the trade, facilitated by corrupt officials and businessmen, who push products to consumers like a dealer pushes drugs to junkies. The national and international response to ivory crime lacks innovation and is still largely reactive. Celebrated seizures of tusks equal hundreds of dead elephants. We need to get proactive and preventative.
Secondly, I’m no scientist but this much I have learnt: elephants eat leaves and branches and open up the canopy to allow sunlight to reach low growing grasses and shrubs. They also eat seeds, and then they poo. And in the significant pile of dung is a perfect organic incubator full of seeds. These grow into forests which support not only their immediate ecosystems but also release oxygen and water vapour to form clouds which affect the climate across the globe generating rain. Elephants are nature’s gardeners and we need them.
The third reason why I’m going to run a marathon for elephants is because of their aesthetic value and because the world would be a poorer place without them. Along with tank-like rhinos, gangly yet graceful giraffes and fascinating armour-plated pangolins, elephants are bizarre yet wonderful animals. Not just their ridiculous appearance or that they communicate through trunk-stroking, their feet and through tummy-rumbles, but their familial, matriarchal society is touching. The mothers and sisters care for the spiky-haired youngsters while teenage boys venture off on their own in search of mischief. Lovely.
EIA has been fighting to protect elephants for years. It was instrumental in bringing about the international ban in ivory in 1989. The ban worked, until some thought it would be okay to start selling ivory again. In 2010, EIA investigated the illegal trade in ivory in two countries that wanted to sell their stockpiles and its evidence unarguably helped thwart the sales. Again in 2013, EIA worked quietly and diplomatically behind the scenes to convince another African country to withdraw its bid to sell its ivory stocks.
EIA’s stance on the ivory trade is that it must stop completely; that with elephant poaching at record levels and illegal trade likewise, any legal markets simply continue to drive demand and confuse efforts to combat crime.
I believe there is every likelihood that the global ivory trade is controlled by just a few individuals and that these same individuals, or their families, or networks, have been behind the trade for decades. But they have yet to be stopped and prosecuted.
To continue to investigate the illegal trade, to evidence its existence and mechanics by capturing ivory traders on film, and to present that evidence to international decision-makers, EIA needs the funds to continue its unique work.
If you’d like to help me help EIA, please consider sponsoring my run.
• To sponsor Justin’s marathon effort for EIA, visit his JustGiving page here. Alternatively, donations in the UK can also be made via text by texting EIAJ99 followed by the amount to 70070 (for example, EIAJ99 £5).