Legal Sale of Ivory Begins

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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