Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio is to lead a campaign to save elephants and stop the international ivory trade that threatens them, wildlife campaigners have said.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said its annual Animal Action campaign would focus this year on the continuing threats to elephants, more than 20 years after the international ban on trading ivory was put in place.
According to IFAW, populations of elephants began to recover after the ban was put into place, but a failure to tackle poaching in recent years has raised the prospect of extinction in several African countries.
In the past century the number of elephants, the world's largest land animal, has halved, IFAW said.
It appears that people do not realise the threats posed to elephants by the ivory trade. A recent poll revealed that almost a third (31%) of those quizzed in the UK did not realise the animals have to die to have their ivory tusks removed. In China, the biggest market for illegal ivory, 70% were unaware the elephants were killed for their tusks.
The campaign to save elephants and shut down the international ivory trade is part of an annual education programme reaching seven million teachers, students and families in 15 countries.
DiCaprio, global ambassador for the programme, said: "Many people around the world still have no idea that elephants are killed for their ivory tusks, and that's why public education is so important.
"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."
He added: "Authorities in 85 countries have seized almost 400 tonnes of ivory on the black market since the 1989 ivory trade ban."
IFAW president Fred O'Regan said: "We are honoured to have Leonardo's support for our Animal Action campaign to stem the ivory trade. With his help, we hope to create a groundswell for elephant protection that can't be ignored."