In 2013, Slash performed in South Africa with rock supergroup Kings of Chaos and spent extra time seeing the local wildlife. Although he had been aware of the diminishing numbers of elephants in the world, the former Guns N’ Roses guitarist learned on this trip that the situation was becoming increasingly more dire. While poaching rangers had increased their efforts to stop the illegal ivory trade, Slash believed that people needed to be more aware of the situation.
“I was shocked that the poachers still manage to get away with it,” he tells Rolling Stone in the above video. “A lot of people don’t know that every time they purchase anything that has even a smidgen of ivory in it, it comes from a dead elephant. I think if people were more aware of that, it would have a dramatic effect on the whole ivory trade.”
Slash’s singer, Myles Kennedy, was equally affected by the situation. Kennedy wrote the lyrics for what would become “Beneath the Savage Sun,” a doomy hard rocker told from the perspective of an elephant who witnessed the death of a fellow pachyderm. Now, Slash has made a powerful video for the track – which is featured on the guitarist’s last solo album, 2014’s World on Fire – illustrating the brutality of the ivory trade with written facts, images of both living and murdered elephants and poachers’ spoils. The video notes that the U.S. is the world’s second-largest consumer of ivory, so Slash hopes the clip serves as a wake-up call.
“We wanted to give the viewer an idea of the atrocities that are going on, to hit them full in the face with it,” says Slash, an animal lover who is on the board at the Los Angeles Zoo and has long been active in animal conservation. “It’s more of an immersive experience. The most important thing is to reach as many people as possible.
“Elephants are so beautiful, intelligent and sensitive,” the guitarist continues. “They have emotions we’re all familiar with. They care for their young. They move in big family groups that live on for generation after generation. They very visibly mourn their dead. When you actually meet elephants and get to know them a little bit, they have a whole myriad of personalities.” (Slash was previously part of the campaign for Billy the Elephant.)
In addition to educating people about elephants, Slash has also partnered with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), an organization he reached out to personally because he had worked with them in the past and liked how they were “hands on” in their causes.
Jeff Flocken, IFAW’s regional director, North America, has been working with the Obama Administration to draft and implement laws to regulate ivory. “Any legal trade of ivory encourages illegal trade,” he says. “Our laws are riddled with loopholes like Swiss cheese.”
He believes that if the U.S. led by example, real change is possible. “Last November, the U.S. crushed six tons of ivory that was seized illegally here in the U.S., and within months, China crushed 6.1 tons of their own ivory,” he tells Rolling Stone, adding that China is the world’s Number One ivory consumer. “It’s the first time they’ve ever done that. It shows that other countries are watching what we’re doing.”
Flocken added that the anti-ivory movement has begun facing opposition from the N.R.A., who want to protect ivory for ornamentation on gun handles, among other causes. Slash says that ivory ornamentation is not necessary and uses musical instruments as an example. “Piano keys don’t have to be ivory,” he says. “It’s not important. And for inlays on guitars and tuning pegs, it’s absolutely not necessary and I won’t use it.”
To prove his point, Slash is donating proceeds from the sale of the song to the IFAW and has redesigned his website to provide more information about the ivory trade and serve as a place where people can donate to the organization. Supporters can also donate to the IFAW.
“Donating is great – that’s hugely necessary – but the other thing to do is to stop purchasing ivory,” Slash says. “Do not buy it. I think the more people that stop buying ivory is going to have a significant effect on the elephant poaching trade.”