Archive for October, 2008

Legal Sale of Ivory Begins

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

Dear Friends

So the first deadly piece of the puzzle has been put in place. Just under 8 tonnes of Namibian ivory went under the hammer for about $1.3m. One hundred tonnes more will soon follow from three other southern African countries.

“This is not going to put elephants at risk elsewhere in Africa or Asia”, according to Willem Wijnstekers, the Secretary General of CITES, for although “there is an increase in the poaching of elephants in central and west Africa… this has nothing to do with the once-off sale of ivory.”

Thankfully no illegal ivory can enter these ‘closed loop’ sales according to CITES law enforcement specialist, John Sellar. Apparently, CITES officials “…will be here in Namibia when the containers are sealed and will also be in Japan and China when the containers are opened.”  Great! That’s made me feel a lot better (that no ivory can be sneaked into a sealed metal container while on the high seas.) Phew!

Fortunately WWF and TRAFFIC (the trade arm of the world’s biggest conservation charity) are convinced all will be well. “We have no evidence that this one-time sale will stimulate increased poaching or increased illegal trade in ivory,” said Dr Susan Lieberman, Director of WWF International’s Species Programme. “There is no evidence that supports this claim but WWF and TRAFFIC will continue to monitor the issue closely.”

So there’s nothing to worry about. Bureaucrats and others will monitor it all! ‘Monitor’, of course, implies observation, not action.

The fears of the 19 African countries like Mali, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria and more – members of the African Elephant Coalition – are dismissed as groundless. Their elephants won’t face extra pressure. CITES officials and WWF staff in Geneva know better than the park rangers and game wardens in central and west Africa what the risks are to beleaguered elephant populations across the continent.

The concerns of numerous elephant conservationists on the ground who are witnessing the ravages of poaching in Tchad, DRC, Zimbabwe, Central African Republic and increasingly in Kenya are without foundation.

It’s OK. Things will be fine. According to Willem Wijnstekers the “moment there is evidence that the one-off sale of ivory is leading to poaching, we will stop the sales.”

HOW? The sales will have taken place. They’ll be over, finito, caput, done! That’s quite possibly the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard for a long time. And who is on the ground in Japan and China, making sure that no illegal ivory shipments come in? That no worked ivory from this ‘one-off’ sale is then illegally exported out? Wildlife law enforcement is an ongoing global issue. And the issue doesn’t end when the containers are sealed.

Whatever happened to the ‘precautionary approach’? The one that puts the animals first? The one that says if there’s a risk don’t take it? I am deeply disappointed with our conservation leaders – CITES, WWF, the EU, the UK – for the sake of a few million pounds to be consumed in the African nations not on the bottom of the UN Human Development Index, they are, in my view, putting the very survival of some of Africa’s most vulnerable elephant populations on the line.

I hope they will be held accountable for their actions. It’s not only elephants that never forget.

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Help fund anti-poaching patrols in West Africa 

Tusk, Tusk. No Way To Save Elephants

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

Dear Friends

Many conservationists will shudder with dismay today as the first ivory sales, approved several years ago by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) goes ahead. Namibia will sell over 9,000 kg of ivory to be followed by almost 100,000 kg more from Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Some claim that this will provide vitally needed resources for elephant conservation, others, including myself, fear it will hasten the decline and possible localised extinction of elephants across much of Africa.

There are 36 African countries with elephants. Some, like the four southern African countries mentioned above, have reasonably robust elephant populations but most have much smaller, much more fragile numbers. They are the target of poaching and illegal killing mainly for ivory which is destined all too often for China, the world centre for the illegal trade in ‘white gold’.

Supporters of this sale say that it will appease the market, drive down the price of ivory, reduce demand and reduce poaching. I say not. Poaching in many African countries is on the rise, especially in Tchad, Kenya, DRC and Zimbabwe. The price of illegal ivory has steadily risen and according to some reports now stands at over $800 a kilo. The wildlife law enforcement capacity of China to withstand illegal imports of ivory remains very patchy. Recent visits by the CITES Secretariat and a South African delegation to China to ‘reassure themselves’ that effective law enforcement and ivory control measures were in place, have done little to reassure me – conducted, as they were, with plenty of advance notification, over a brief timeframe and with limited scope. China is vast. She has hundreds of millions of middle-class with disposable income, her borders are porous and outside the major urban centres her customs and law enforcement effort – according to my information – is weak.

These sales will provide the perfect cover for more illegal ivory to enter the country and, once there, it will be virtually indistinguishable from the rest.

I’ve written, on behalf of Born Free, to the former Minister in charge of this issue, Joan Ruddock, and have been deeply dismayed at her response. Advised by DEFRA officials, no doubt, she claimed that all was in order, that while she lamented any poaching, the ivory ban had failed to prevent poaching and that these sales would be likely to protect elephants.  Where has she been?  What have her DEFRA officials said? How can they get it so wrong?  Poaching continues because, since 1995 when the first efforts were made to approve limited, ‘experimental’ one-off ivory sales, the poaching syndicates have been playing the long game. They could see that the ban – which had been a stunning success – was crumbling. All they had to do was go about their bloody business.  Now, tens of thousands of elephants are killed each year and it’s only going to get worse. And it is not only the elephants that are killed. Hundreds of rangers have died trying to defend elephants and other wildlife from well-armed and well-organised poaching gangs. A tragedy on all fronts.  And by the time our elected politicians (who seem deaf to the views of the majority of their citizens) come to their senses, it will be too late for many elephants and many people. The clock will not go back. They will have to live with the knowledge that foolish economics and foolhardy politics got in the way of real conservation and their obligation to discharge their duty as custodians of the planet properly. Shame on them all.

Born Free is doing what we can to mitigate this crisis.  We urgently need funds for anti-poaching units and wildlife rangers trying to protect elephants in the field.  Please go to our appeal if you can help us.

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International Union for Conservation of Nature Report

Friday, October 10th, 2008

Dear Friends

The latest report coming out of the IUCN meeting taking place this week in Barcelona, makes for very worrying reading. As much as 36% of the world’s mammal species may be in danger of becoming extinct and 25% of mammal species are in decline. One of the key factors is, according to IUCN, the invasion of the last remaining animal habitats by human beings – we really are unstoppable!

It has made me appreciate even more how important the world’s network of protected areas – National Parks and Reserves – are. Currently, I think I am right in saying, about 8% of the world’s surface is formally protected. However, that does not mean it is well protected because resources are always in short supply, perhaps now more than ever. These are the areas we have set aside and where nature and wildlife is the No 1 priority.

There are those that say we should open up these protected areas to embrace a multi-use strategy – hunting, commercial exploitation of wildlife and ecosystem services. It would be the kiss of death!

Humankind is being put to the test. We can either ensure that a significant proportion of our planet’s biodiversity survives alongside our species or we can take over entirely, enter every last bastion of the natural world – and watch it all go to the wall.

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