Nellie Shute, 12, created and sold greeting cards, raising $250 to help elephants.
Photograph by Katrina Shute
Elephants use their tusks for multiple purposes, including social interaction with other elephants.
Photograph by John Michael Evan Potter
Nellie Shute donated the money she raised from her greeting cards for the care of an elephant orphan at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya.
Photograph by Michael Nichols, National Geographic
People in China have traditionally carved elephant ivory into artwork, such as these sculptures that were illegally imported into the United States.
Photo by Kate Miyamoto, courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Published May 27, 2014
Updated August 12, 2014
Thanks in part to the hard work of three young girls, the Hong Kong government began May 15 to destroy the majority of its stockpile of confiscated elephant ivory.
Nellie Shute, age 12, Christina Seigrist, age nine, and Lucky Lan Skrine, age 11, were attending international schools in Hong Kong when they learned what was happening to elephants. They formed the group Elephant Angels and collected more than 18,000 signatures asking the government to destroy the ivory.
Elephants are hunted illegally for their ivory tusks, which often wind up on the black market in Hong Kong. Fewer than 500,000 elephants roam Africa today, down from several million a century ago. At current poaching rates, experts warn that elephants may become nearly extinct within decades.
"I was really worried that if we don't do anything, I will not be able to see elephants in real life when I grow up," Christina Seigrist said.
Nellie Shute started helping elephants by making and selling elephant greeting cards. She raised $250, which she donated to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya for the care of an elephant orphan.
Nellie then wrote a note to her principal at the Hong Kong International School telling him that she didn’t think her school should have confiscated ivory on display for "educational" purposes. Her principal agreed to send the ivory back to the government.
While the latest petition and planned ivory destruction are huge accomplishments for Nellie and the other members of Elephant Angels, the girls aren’t stopping there. They’ve been protesting outside stores in Hong Kong that sell ivory and educating passersby about where the ivory comes from.
"I speak Chinese," Christina said, "and I was able to talk to kids visiting from mainland China . . . It was shocking to find out that they thought the tusks just fall off the elephants. They were horrified and immediately told their parents right there not to buy the ivory."
Since the girls began protesting, the three largest ivory retailers in Hong Kong have stopped selling ivory. Now, the girls have set a goal of a total ban on ivory trade in Hong Kong and have created an online petition with more than four thousand signatures collected so far.
Did You Know?
- Hong Kong’s ivory stockpile weighs nearly 30 tons. That’s equal to about 60 adult elephants!
- The ivory will be incinerated in smaller batches inside of a two-story furnace over the course of a year.
- In 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service destroyed its own stockpile of elephant ivory, which weighed nearly six tons and was confiscated over more than 30 years. Instead of incineration, the agency used an industrial rock crusher to pulverize the ivory. (see video above)
How You Can Help
- Ask your parents to sign the latest petition posted by the Elephant Angels calling for the Hong Kong government to ban ivory sales. (see petition link above)
- Learn more about the threats facing wild elephants and hold a presentation in your classroom to teach other students what you've learned.
- Hold your own bake sale or other fundraiser and donate the money to an organization that helps elephants such as the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
Credits: Video of U.S. ivory crush courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service;
Photograph of U.S. ivory crush by Kate Miyamoto, courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service