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Leonardo DiCaprio and Nicole Kidman to Attend Torching of Largest Ever Ivory Stockpile to Help Put an End to Poaching

Leonardo DiCaprio and Nicole Kidman to Attend Torching of Largest Ever Ivory Stockpile to Help Put an End to Poaching

Kenya will host a major global summit on illegal poaching and wildlife trafficking this April that will count Hollywood celebrities, business leaders, world dignitaries and politicians as attendees, according to local reports.

Additionally, in an effort to boost elephant conservation, Kenya will also use the two-day event to set fire to its massive stockpile of ivory that has an estimated black market price of $270 million.

Kenya will destroy as much as 120 tonnes of stockpiled ivory in April. Actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Nicole Kidman, along with David Attenborough, Michael Bloomberg, George Soros, Yao Ming, Elton John, Paul Allen and Howard Buffet, are said to be attending the star-studded event. Photo credit:
Flickr / Flickr

“Kenya plans to use the occasion to torch as many as 120 tonnes of ivory, the largest stockpile of ivory ever destroyed by any country, as proof of our commitment to zero tolerance for poaching and illegal ivory trade,” Presidential Spokesman Manoah Esipisu told reporters.

Actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Nicole Kidman, and business tycoons George Soros, Paul Allen, Howard Buffet (son of Warren Buffett) and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg are expected to attend the Elephant Protection Initiative held April 29 - April 30.

Renowned broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough, musician Elton John and former NBA player Yao Ming, who has also prominently campaigned against poaching crisis, are also on the guest list.

“They will be joined by a host of African gliterrati in a campaign to sustain the fight against poaching and the illegal trade in ivory, for which Kenya is already a recognized leader,” the Environment Cabinet Sec. Judi Wakhungu told The Star.

Conservationist Richard Leakey, chairman of the government’s Kenya Wildlife Service, told News.com.au that the average weight of an elephant’s pair of tusks was around 36 kilos (nearly 80 pounds), meaning the stockpile represents the death of around 4,000 animals.

According to News.com.au, "Kenya’s stockpile, if illegally sold on the black market at current prices, could be worth some $270 million, but conservationists say sale of ivory only serves to fuel further poaching."

Kenya's current elephant population stands at about 45,000 nationwide, according to the Kenya Wildlife Service. The country had a population of roughly 35,000 elephants in 2013. (Let us also note that Kenya's elephant population was about 167,000 in the 1970s.)

Still, the illegal slaughter of elephants and other wildlife remains a rampant problem in Kenya and across the African continent. The latest statistics, according to a report from Daily Nation, show that more than 100,000 elephants have been killed in Africa in the past three years. Kenya lost 96 elephants and 11 rhinos to poachers in 2015, the report said.

Kenya's strict laws against poaching has led to a dramatic decline in elephant and rhino poaching within the country. This past March, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta set fire to 15 tonnes of elephant ivory tusks during a ceremony at the Nairobi National Park, which was then the largest consignment ever destroyed by Kenya, the BBC reported.

"Many of these tusks belonged to elephants which were wantonly slaughtered by criminals," he said at the ceremony.

"We want future generations of Kenyans, Africans and indeed the entire world to experience the majesty and beauty of these magnificent animals," President Kenyatta said.

Elephant tusks are used for ornaments in Asia and the Middle East. China, in particular, is a leading culprit. The country's demand accounts for 70 percent of global demand for ivory, contributing the to death of 30,000 African elephants each year, The Guardian reported.

On Jan. 13, Hong Kong—a major hub of Chinese ivory sales—announced it will ban import and export of ivory following a major anti-ivory campaign by conservation organization such as the World Wildlife Fund.

Hong Kong's announcement followed an announcement by Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Barack Obama in September 2015 that they would take significant and timely steps to halt their domestic commercial ivory trades.

On Tuesday, U.S Sec. of the Interior Sally Jewell and President Kenyatta signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on National Conservation and Management at the State House in Nairobi to jointly tackle trafficking and aid wildlife conservation.

“The U.S. has brought on board China, which is a main consumer of the animal products," Jewell said. "I have met several senior Chinese officials to discuss ways of ending this illegal business. The U.S. is determined to end this illegal trade."

In related news, earlier this week, Sri Lanka became the fifteenth country to crush and burn its ivory stockpile and the first to formally apologize for its role in the illegal ivory trade.

The country joins Gabon, the Philippines, the U.S., China, France, Chad, Belgium, Hong Kong, Kenya, Ethiopia, the United Arab Emirates, Republic of Congo, Mozambique and Thailand, who have all destroyed stockpiles of ivory in the last four years.

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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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