Tusk, Tusk. No Way To Save Elephants

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.

Blogging off.


One Response to “Tusk, Tusk. No Way To Save Elephants”

  1. Ruth Says:

    Hi Will,
    Heard you on Radio 2 yesterday opposing the sale. The arguments for the sale were sketchy at best and largely missed the point. Ivory is – or is supposed to be! – a banned substance….Elephants need ivory. People don’t. Ever.