Standing before a pile of charred elephant ivory as dusk covered the surrounding savannah, Christian, Muslim and Hindu religious leaders grasped hands and prayed. Let religion, they asked, help “God’s creatures” to survive.

Poachers are escalating their assault on Africa’s elephants and rhinos, and conservationists warn that the animals cannot survive Asia’s high-dollar demand for ivory tusks and rhino horn powder. Some wildlife agents, customs officials and government leaders are being paid off by what is viewed as a well-organized mafia moving animal parts from Africa to Asia, charge the conservationists.

Seeing a dire situation grow worse, the animal conservation group WWF is enlisting religious leaders to take up the cause in the hopes that religion can help save some of the world’s most majestic animals.

“We are the ones who are driving God’s creatures to extinction,” said Martin Palmer, secretary-general of the Britain-based Alliance of Religions and Conservation.

Palmer spoke during Thursday evening’s prayer at a site in Nairobi National Park where Kenyan officials burned hundreds of ivory tusks in 1989 to draw attention to the slaughter of elephants. Although the park has no elephants, it hosts 221 rhinos.

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