Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

No to the Ivory Trade


Summer 2002:In Chile in November, the fate of thousands of elephants will be decided. At the Conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites COP12) held in Santiago, Chile, several countries will be pressing for relaxation of restrictions and resumption of the international ivory trade. The ADI, as part of the an international coalition known as the Species Survival Network (SSN), will be there lobbying for the elephants.

This is the gravest threat faced by wild elephants for over a decade.

Five southern African countries, South Africa, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, have begun a concerted campaign to relax international protection for African elephants. Each has submitted a proposal for the reopening of the ivory trade, with the export specific quantities of ivory under controlled conditions.

They are opposed by, Kenya, supported by India, who have a proposal to put all elephant populations back to Appendix I which would prohibit any international trade.

At the conference in Chile, the countries will attempt to get support for their proposals from the delegates of the other 158 countries. The ADI will be part of a lobbying offensive to ensure the delegates get the animal welfare, environmental, and conservation facts. In Chile, the fate of thousands upon thousands of animals will be decided, it is vital that the Animal defenders have a presence there.

Elephants aren’t the only animals at stake, there are 40 proposals concerning animals and 13 concerning plants. The animal proposals include whales, Black Sea dolphin; elephants, vicuna, parrots, turtles, seahorses, humphead wrasse, and butterflies.

Why Elephants Must be Protected
The elephant is the largest land animal with a huge influence on its environment, they are sometimes referred to as the architects of the savannah. They are intelligent, and have complex social and family structures. Centuries ago, millions roamed Africa. But the ivory trade, and the steady destruction of their habitat, have eroded their numbers. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) estimated that by 1998 as few as 300,000 elephants remained in Africa. Asian elephants have faced similar threats and there are just 35,000 to 50,000 left in the wild. These numbers are thought to be dropping and they are already too low to face any new risks.

Recently, scientists discovered that there are actually two species of African elephant: the savanna elephant and the forest elephant, making protection of populations and habitats even more critical.

During the 1980’s African elephants were hurtling towards extinction, dropping from approximately 1.2 million in 1981 to 500,000 in 1989. The cause was ivory.

There was a global mobilisation to protect the elephants, and in 1989, African elephants were placed on the CITES Appendix I - list prohibiting international trade. The dwindling populations of Asian elephants have been listed on Appendix I since 1976.

The ban was heralded as one of the great conservation victories. Those who had opposed restriction claimed that a ban would send the price of ivory up and increase poaching. In fact subsequent years have seen ivory poaching, although not eliminated, reduced and some elephant populations return from the brink. Experience shows that legal trade in ivory increases demand and fuels the illegal trade.

Some countries even burnt stock piles of confiscated or other ivory to remove the product from the market place. Others kept their stocks.

A decade later, At the 10th conference of parties held in Zimbabwe in 1998, elephants in Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe were downlisted to Appendix II, to allow what was then called a one-off sale to cash in on those stockpiles. The ADs lobbied at that conference, and as was feared at the time the sales appear to have whetted appetites for more trade.

This year, South Africa, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe will be pushing for further relaxation.

The Debate
Those who support the ivory trade put forward several arguments. Key is, of course, money. Last year Zimbabwe earned $67million from ivory. This they claim can be put to worthy use in communities that have to live with wildlife and with the National Parks and Wildlife Management for elephant and habitat protection.

There is xenophobia ‘these are our elephants and anyone opposing them is from the West who doesn’t have to live with the elephants’. Of course we as a groups also campaigning for change in the UK would welcome Zimbabwean or other efforts to protect wildlife here! They also ignore Kenya’s role.

They say, the huge demand for ivory can be satisfied from legal stocks, so the illegal trade will be stifled. This didn’t happen last time round.

The Southern African countries claim their elephant populations are well managed and must pay their way. The counter is that these animals and biodiversity have a value greater than anything financial. We have a responsibility to nature around us, it should be protected even if it can’t pay its way.

Mr Wamithi, the Regional Director, International Fund for Animal Welfare-East Africa, says “The impression created by the South is that their wildlife is well managed compared to other range states such as Kenya. It all sounds good, but it is very far from reality. For example, not many people know that South Africa had about 120,000 elephants 20 years ago, but now has only 12,000 left."

South Africa claims that the Kruger, which has an optimum capacity for 7,000 elephants, is home to about 9,000, which are adversely affecting the reserves natural balance. Ian Whyte, the park’s senior scientist said two years ago that up to 1,000 elephants would have to be culled annually for the next five years.

Revenue from ivory will have to be set against increased costs of anti-poaching activity; damage to tourism if herds that attract visitors are poached; and if tourists turn away because they don’t like the idea of the wonderful creature they’ve just photographed being killed in government sanctioned hunt. Tourism is possibly the only major growth industry Africa can rely on in coming decades and elephants are one of its greatest assets - they are already paying something, they shouldn’t have to pay with their lives as well.

In reality, the financial impact of the ivory trade on a national economy is minor, the impact for the dealers is very great indeed. The ivory trade is also backed by the trophy hunting lobby, who have little interest in wider tourism since they attract an unrepresentative minority with a skewed view of animal protection and conservation.

The Illegal Trade
History shows that if you stop the legal trade the illegal trade will wither, even if it can’t be eradicated altogether. The Kenyan Government, which earns an estimated 17 million a year from tourists who come to view its wildlife, including its estimated 30,000 elephants, insists that poaching increases every time that relaxing the ban on the ivory trade is discussed by CITES.

The Humane Society of the US estimates that nearly six tonnes of ivory, representing about 2,000 elephants, were seized worldwide between January 2000 and May 2002. And this is without the large scale poaching activity witnessed in the 1970s and 80s.

Uganda has impounded over 150 pieces of elephant tusks since the beginning of the year. The ivory was intercepted at Entebbe International Airport destined to various countries including Egypt, the Middle East and Europe.

Singapore recently seized six tons of African ivory concealed in a shipment to Japan, reportedly from Zambia. Japan was the purchaser of the CITES authorised Zimbabwean ivory - it seems it wasn’t enough.

In Thailand, seizures of African ivory have risen over the last year to 1300lbs, up from only 11lbs in the previous twelve months.

It should be noted that it is hard to know if the intercepted ivory reflects better law enforcement or rising volumes of illegal imports.

Delegates attending the World Conservation Union’s Asian Elephant Specialist Group meeting in Phnom Penh recently said resuming the trade in African ivory would send the wrong message to poachers and spur hunting of Asia’s dwindling elephant population. “Reopening legal trade in African ivory will send signals to ivory traders and poachers who may be led to believe that trade in Asian ivory has also been legitimised,” the delegates said in a joint resolution.

A recent survey of Asian markets by Save the Elephants, a Kenyan group, found that Thailand was by far the biggest ivory market in Southeast Asia.

A legal loophole exists for the sale of ivory from domesticated Thai elephants, which are used as beasts of burden and, increasingly, as tourist attractions. Their owner is allowed to sell their tusks to traders provided that the processed ivory is sold only in Thailand. Forestry officials say this loophole makes it difficult to it identify illegal ivory as documents are forged. Thus even in a relatively small, seemingly controllable area, legalisation of some ivory opens the door to the rest.

© Animal Defenders International 2020