Repeatedly involved in efforts to save tigers around the world from extinction, actor Leonardo DiCaprio is expanding his scope and now leading a campaign to protect dwindling elephant populations.

 

The 36-year-old announced yesterday that he's spearheading a new International Fund for Animal Welfare initiative, "Elephants, Never Forget," which focuses on the crisis that elephants face 20 years after the international ivory trade ban was put in place.

 

"The ivory trade fuels conflict and strife," said DiCaprio in a release. "Elephants are killed by poachers so their tusks can be traded for weapons and drugs by international criminal organizations before becoming trinkets and jewelry for consumers. Authorities in 85 countries have seized almost 400 tons of ivory on the black market since the 1989 ivory trade ban."

 

According to the IFAW, elephant populations have plummeted some 50 percent in the last century. The biggest issue appears to be awareness. The organization citing polling that found a large percentage of people do not understand that elephants must be killed for their tusks to be taken.

 

"There were 1.3 million elephants in 1979; rampant poaching and other factors have reduced that by more than half, to an estimated 500,000," said DiCaprio, citing a need for widespread education. "Authorities in 85 countries have seized almost 400 tonnes of ivory on the black market since the 1989 ivory trade ban."

 

"We are honored to have Leonardo's support for our Animal Action campaign to stem the ivory trade," said IFAW President and CEO Fred O'Regan. "With his help, we hope to create a groundswell for elephant protection that can't be ignored."

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