‘Sex and the City’ Star Takes On Elephant Poachers
In the time it takes to read this story, another African elephant will be dead, slaughtered to feed a seemingly insatiable global appetite for ivory. Yet if the massacre isn’t halted—and soon—an ancient, graceful species that once roamed the earth in the tens of millions could vanish within a generation, jeopardizing humanity as well as the environment.
That urgent message is at the heart of Gardeners of Eden, a powerful documentary produced by Kristin Davis, an actor best known as the kindhearted but lovelorn yuppie Charlotte York on the hit TV show Sex and the City. In real life, Davis is a passionate environmental activist committed to saving African elephants, one at a time if necessary.
With elephants vanishing from the wild, “I feel like it’s a tipping point,” said Davis, who screened the 61-minute film at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., as part of its Earth Day events. Poachers, she added, “have no qualms about anything they’re doing. They’ve committed themselves to the dark side. And that’s why the rest of us have to stand up and say we actually care. We have to tell our lawmakers we care.”
The film, which premieres on May 6 on our sister network, Pivot TV, shows how elephants have been mutilated, stressed, and hunted to the brink of extinction. The story centers on the heroic elephant-rescue efforts of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a wildlife conservation center on the edge of Kenya’s Tsavo National Park—a prime hunting ground for poachers.
Gardeners of Eden also illuminates the big picture: how economic, cultural, and political forces drive illegal poaching for ivory—a precious resource coveted by status seekers—as well as financiers for terrorists and warlords around the world.
At a roundtable discussion following the State Department screening, Davis, Michelle Gadd of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Africa Program, and Bryan Christy, an investigative journalist with National Geographic magazine, described a dire situation for African elephants.
Despite campaigns linking ivory to the carnage driving elephants to endangerment, demand remains high, while the risk for poachers remains low, they said. That’s largely because corrupt governments in Africa—and leaders in China and the U.S., the world’s top-two ivory markets—haven’t made the protection of elephants a top priority.
“If you’re in the wildlife trade, the people who are going after you are going to be the least well funded even in the best of times,” even though elephants and other African game have been used to fund wars and terrorism, Christy said. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is one of the best in the world, and it is always outnumbered and always outgunned.”
Indeed, the film illustrates the Sisyphean task faced by a small squad of rangers at Tsavo National Park, a sprawling, arid territory the size of Maine. Tracking footsteps and bits of a wounded animal’s flesh, rangers get to the scene a step behind active poachers, yet they consider it a good day because they have found and dismantled 24 snare traps.
Although the film shows elephants orphaned or horrifically wounded, “the irony is that these elephants in this movies are actually the lucky ones,” Gadd said. “Somebody rescued them; somebody took them to the [Sheldrick] orphanage; somebody took care of them. The tragic thing is these events are happening across Africa every day, and there's no one there to film it.”
The best way to stop poaching, Davis said, is for ordinary people to get involved and demand action.
“It is something in all of our interests” because the danger extends beyond Tsavo National Park, Davis said. Poachers, she said, “are also doing other bad things. People who are interested in doing bad things to [other] people for gain are interested in killing elephants because of the money.”
At the same time, “normal people, who are good people, and who would care about the elephants if they knew, are really busy trying to just live their lives and buy their groceries and take care of their kids, and they don’t really know,” she said. “And I think if they did know, they would want to rise up because it’s not just the elephants—it’s the entire world. These people who are bad—who have the ability to move illegal wildlife, weapons, and people around the world—they’re no joke.”
“We have to stand up,” Davis declared, “and we have to stand up now.”