No wild elephants by 2025?

By Fiona Gordon

Rangers with confiscated ivory. Photo:  © 2013 The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
Rangers with confiscated ivory. Photo: © 2013 The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

Conservation: One elephant is killed for its ivory every 15 minutes. At this rate none will roam in the wild by 2025.

Late last year, poachers added cyanide to waterholes in Zimbabwe, killing more than 300 elephants. In March 2013 an entire herd of elephants was slaughtered, in Cameroon, by an estimated 300 poachers riding horseback. In October 2012 the famous Matriarch Qumquat, born in 1968, and her two daughters, Qantina and Quaye, were found with their faces entirely hacked off. Qumquat's orphaned calf, Quanza, is now in the care of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya.

Sadly, these are but a few of the many poaching incidents that are now occurring alarmingly frequently in Africa, to feed an insatiable demand for ivory.

It hasn't always been this way, although history is repeating itself. The reckless hunting and relentless ivory demand of the 1970s and 1980s decimated African elephant populations. A global ban on the ivory trade was put in place in 1989, such that only ivory sourced before 1989 could be traded.

The ban worked and elephant populations recovered over the next two decades. Reports indicated that the illustrious ivory carving industry in China took a dive and this ancient "art form" was all but lost.

This recovery was seen as reason enough to allow two ironically named "one-off" ivory sales. The first sale to Japan (1998), and the second to Japan and China (2008).

China's ivory carving industry has since been resurrected. National Geographic investigative journalist, Bryan Christy, reports that, "The [Chinese] government has licensed at least 35 carving factories and 130 ivory retail outlets and sponsors ivory carving at schools like the Beijing University of Technology. Most telling of all, as in the Philippines, Chinese carvers such as Master Li are training their relatives-they're investing in their own blood."

The demand for ivory, killing of elephants and illicit ivory trade have steadily increased since 2006, with a surge in the illicit trade since 2010. The illegal ivory trade is now at unprecedented levels, so too is the number of African elephants being killed - 35,000 elephants in 2012 alone. With the demand for ivory showing no decline, and with the current rate of poaching, the elephant could face extinction by 2025.

The Environmental Investigation Agency and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust are calling for a complete ivory trade ban. The broad argument is that the legal ivory trade system provides the avenue to launder illicit ivory and undermines demand-reduction efforts, and that hundreds of thousands of elephants have been slaughtered while a "regulated" ivory trade exists.

A raft of non-governmental agencies and seven African nations committed to the Clinton Global Initiative in September 2013, which includes an African government-led call for other countries to adopt trade moratoria on all commercial ivory imports, exports and domestic ivory sales until African elephant populations are no longer threatened by poaching.

The United States publically crushed six tons of its confiscated ivory stock pile in November last year, to send a clear message to the international community. China has since followed suit, destroying six tons of confiscated ivory just this month.

And last Thursday Hong Kong's government announced that it would destroy its 30-ton stockpile, one of the world's largest. Hong Kong is something of a nexus for ivory, with much of it travelling through the city's ports, destined for China.

When the Obama Administration's Federal Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking met for the first time last month to discuss the development of a National Strategy, among the voices calling for a complete ban on all ivory trade was a spokesperson for 6500 people with a simple message. "Let children in America and all around the world continue to learn that "E" is for elephant - not for extinction."

Despite all this noise, the international body that can instigate a complete ivory trade ban, CITES, has not done so. TRAFFIC, the agency that provides statistical reports to CITES, continues to report they find no evidence linking the two "one-off" ivory sales with the noted increases in the illicit ivory trade.

What TRAFFIC has continued to report, since 2002, is that the illegal trade in ivory is directly linked to the presence of large-scale, unregulated domestic ivory markets. These unregulated markets remain. And, CITES continues to investigate ways in which a legal ivory market can exist into the future.

Numerous seizures of significant amounts of illicit ivory have been made over the last 12 months alone, illustrating the continuing scale of the trade. New Zealand is not immune either - Auckland man, Jiezhen Jiang, was convicted for trading illegally in ivory in July last year. But these seizures represent the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.


To find out more :

David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust sheldrickwildlifetrust.org

iWorry.org

Environmental Investigation Agency http://www.eia-international.org

Fiona Gordon is an environmental policy analyst and mediator.

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