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Enviro Film Festival’s Gambling on Extinction Drives Home the Atrocious Reality of Poaching

Today marks the start of Washington, D.C.’s highly anticipated annual Environmental Film Festival. One of the festival’s films, Gambling on Extinction, features EIA’s President and Co-Founder Allan Thornton. Gambling on Extinction is a powerful documentary that explores the complexities of the illegal trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn, from the African sources to Asian markets.

An investigative documentary, Gambling on Extinction shines a light on this devastating transnational crime, covering supply and demand, the involvement of criminal syndicates, and links to terrorism. The film is intense, with graphic images sweeping across the screen, conveying the brutal and bloody reality of the poaching epidemic plaguing Africa’s iconic wildlife.

Wildlife crime is one of the world’s most lucrative black market businesses, trailing only the illegal trades in drugs, weapons, and human trafficking, and accounting for $10 billion in revenue annually. Illegal ivory and rhino horn are transported from Africa to Asia and sold to consumers in countries like China, Japan, and Vietnam as luxury trinkets, wealthy status symbols, or false medicinal cures. For the criminals involved in this transnational trade, deemed “the dark side of globalization,” the benefits far outweigh the risks.

In a tragic twist on classical economic theory, many consumers of illegal wildlife products are banking on extinction when they purchase products derived from endangered species. They hold the perverse hope that their “investment” will appreciate as species numbers decline. In the documentary, Thornton speaks to this issue stating, “They think it’s a very smart investment. They believe there will never be any more elephants or any more rhinos than there are now, which will mean their investments will increase in value.”

In order to give elephants a fighting chance, EIA firmly believes that the legal markets that stimulate the demand for wildlife products and serve to launder illegal goods should be shut down immediately and that ivory trade should be banned in every country, especially in China, Japan, the United States, and European Union. Bans send a clear market signal that there is no value to investing in ivory. Likewise, rhinos are being slaughtered at record levels (more than three per day), yet South Africa is promoting the legalization of rhino trade. It is folly to believe that flooding a market will solve a problem where demand has proven insatiable. Such a move would be the downfall of the world’s rhinos. Instead, the global community should re-focus on closing the legal loopholes and enforcement gaps that allow this trade to flourish.

We now face the very real possibility that we will lose elephants and rhinos from the wild in our lifetime, perhaps in as few as the next ten years. The moment to act is now. We can choose to either have elephants and rhinos, or opt instead for the commerce in their products and parts. It is not possible to have both.

The world’s elephants and rhinos are teetering on the brink of extinction. They deserve more than rhetoric and they are unlikely to survive risky policies that fall short of a total ban on trade in their products. That’s why EIA has always supported only the most precautionary measures to combat the illegal wildlife trade. EIA’s policy always has been and will always be that we will not gamble on extinction.

Please join us for the U.S. premiere of Gambling on Extinction on Tuesday, March 24th at the Goethe-Institut in Washington, D.C. at 6:30pm, free and open to the public. Following the screening, EIA Senior Policy Advisor Lisa Handy will participate in a moderated panel discussion with Q&A from the audience.

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