In London a few week’s ago 46 countries – including China – pledged to save the elephants by adopting a “zero tolerance” attitude to illegal wildlife trading in order to “secure the future of these iconic species”. The US government announced that it would no longer allow commercial imports of African ivory of any age, including antiques – which were previously exempt. Domestic and export trade will also now be limited to artefacts more than 100 years old.
Great news indeed. But how is it going to be implemented? Realistically is anything going to actually change?
There is no question that China is the world’s greatest enemy to the elephant when it comes to smuggled ivory and it appears to be poised for further growth. Now that they have signed the pledge is the government going to take away the licenses they have recently given to over 35 new carving factories and stop sponsoring ivory carving lessons at schools like the Beijing University of Technology? What sort of approach is going to stop the Chinese from wanting to buy ivory when they are seen as status symbols, desired and purchased by the new elite wealthy set. A poacher who kills a rhino and removes its horn in India gets £210. By the time it reaches Hong Kong, Beijing or the Middle East the horn is worth £36,000 per kilogram, rivalling the street value of cocaine. Similar demand applies for the tusks and the concern is that by banning ivory trading the trade will be driven further underground.
Quite recently Shark’s Fin restaurants have been closing down in China as the taste for the fin has declined – that is great news for sharks – how do we make the same thing happen for tusks? It is more difficult because the elephant and the ivory is tied up with their history and with religion. The elephant is revered in Buddhism and many Thais wear amulets made from ivory to bring them luck and to protect the from harm and black magic. Anyway, realistically, is there any point in destroying antique pieces in museums when they were made decades ago? Perhaps instead, there should be passports for key pieces and a way to tell the age of the tusk so that any dealers found with fake passports and “new” ivory could get fined. In addition, I understand that the legislation in the US still allows for the imports of “elephant sport-hunted tropes” at “two per hunter per year”. Talk about double standards. It’s appalling to allow the shooting of elephants by rich trigger happy Americans to still occur whilst banning all commercial imports.
The Black market for “white gold” has expanded since 1989 when the global ban on ivory trade was adopted. It was a nightmare to enforce because anything “pre-ban” remained acceptable and because there is no global inventory, all of a sudden, most of the ivory was “pre-ban” and still is. Either that or passed through what is known as the “Thai loop-hole” whereby you are allowed to sell the tusk tips of live domesticated elephants and the tusks of ones that have died of natural causes. It was Kenya’s president Daniel wrap Moi who made perhaps the most dramatic and iconic gesture in conservation history by setting fire to 13 tons of Kenyan ivory, but since then things have only got worse. In 2008 a decision was made to allow the Chinese to buy 62 tons of stockpiles ivory from Africa – by all accounts, this revitalised the market because everyone thought that meant that the elephant was no longer in danger of becoming extinct. Poaching is at it’s highest level ever, with very advanced techniques being used to kill entire herds in one go. The UN estimates that the illegal ivory trade has tripled just in the last decade.
1900 = 10 million elephants
1930 = 5 million elephants
1979 = 1.3 million elephants
2014 = 0.5 million elephants
It doesn’t take a mathematician to work out where this is all going, but just in case, like me you’re not very good with numbers:-
2035 = 0 elephants
The problem in Africa is how do you address the human-wildlife conflict issues because elephants can devastate villages and crops by trampling through blockades and eating all the food and vegetation. How can we find a way to protect and sustain the animals that suits the local communities? It is not easy to solve and requires a large investment of time and resources and locals are angry and resentful. Poverty and weak management and corruption are adding to the increase in poaching which has become a £75 billion trade, ten times more than it was a decade ago.
The charity who raised half a million pounds through The Independent auction “Space For Giants” have the following solutions and certainly the money they have just raised will help develop their programme further:-
1. Community scout Network
2. Farm based deterrents such as chilli fences and loud noises
3. Electric fences have reduced crop raiding by more than 50%
4. Identifying the ring leaders
5. Training the next generation of wildlife conservationists
6. Creating “rights of passage” – specific areas and routes designed just for the elephants – making space for giants – just as the title says.
So, it remains to be seen what will work – the more we can encourage the tourism industry to grow, the more the elephants will be safe, because nobody is going to want to go on safari when there are only “the big three” – after the extinction of both the elephant and the rhino so we all need to collectively find a way to stop the poaching.