“Africa and Asian elephants are in for tough times ahead” says Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants. After the ivory sales last year, elephant poaching has increased. Many conservationists believe it is being fueled by the demand in Eastern countries – yet nobody dares to say this. The money raised from the sales of ivory was supposed to go into elephant conservation. Some people who dare to call themselves conservationists argued that the ban on ivory was wrong, the burn was wasteful, and that the sale of ivory was the best way to generate funds and support for elephant conservation. Well, how come elephants are worse off today than they were before the sales?
And, how come ivory is now selling at US$ 1,888/kg in Vietnam? Isn’t it obvious that the one off sale has stimulated demand and prices are rising? Now even the IUCN is saying that elephantas are in trouble …but they are confining their concerns to Asian elephants …why??
It’s now apparent that the four southern African countries that sold their ivory to China and Japan were duped – their stock piles fetched prices in the range of 100 – 120$/kg! The real value of ivory in eastern markets is at least ten times this. Southern African countries were cheated by the East – but I’m not feeling sorry for them!
Even more worrying however that the CITES conference that approved the one off sale did so on condition of a 9 year moratorium. Kenya led that campaign and the conference adopted it. But they made a MASSIVE BLUNDER. The wording of the agreement only binds the countries that sold their stocks. It does not include countries like Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia that have massive (and some illegally acquired) stockpiles . With renewed demand in Asia, these countries are likely to demand for sales of their stockpiles too at the next CITES conference.
Iain Douglas–Hamilton and I discussed this problem with his researchers at his house last night. He showed me the maps of elephant killings in Kenya in 2008 – the image is frightening. the country is covered in dots- each one representing a dead elephant. He says it isn’t as bad as it was in the 1960,s but I reminded him that back then we had ten times as many elephants. Based on genetic evidence from tusks, Sam Wasser believes that the proportion of elephants we are losing today is far greater than any time in history.
I met Iain about 30 year ago when as a young volunteer recruited to measure Kenya’s ivory stockpile. It as a morbid job but we had to know what was happening. We weighed and measured every single tusk and estimated the age of the elephant that had died. We processed 30 tons of ivory in 2 days. The information showed us that poachers were going for younger and younger animals. At that point, I had never seen an elephant in the wild, but I was so disgusted with the killings and disillusioned about the future of elephants that I turned down a project on ele’s and went on to study primates. Later I did study elephants for my PhD, when the ivory ban was working and guns had fallen silent.
These are the 30 tons of ivory that I measured in 1989. Kenya’s president burned the lot and the world praised him for it.
Sadly, those guns are back in action and Africa’s elephants are once again at risk because we were persuaded by greedy people to run a risky experiment.
It feels like the precautionary principle has gone extinct. If we aren’t careful, we will soon be seeing the nightmarish scenes of hacked off faces of elephants that dominated the conservation news in the 1980′s.
Iain asked me ‘what are we going to do about it?” and I looked at him blankly, I didn’t have an answer.
What would you have replied – what can we do?