What's New for Elephants after CITES?
The 11th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (International Convention on Trade in Endangered Species, which was held in Nairobi from April 10th to 20th 2000, has now ended, so what is new?
1. No trading in any Ivory for the next two years to allow a workable Monitoring System to be put in place in all the Elephant Range States, supposedly to accurately determine the extent of poaching.
Sounds O.K. but who is going to be present when AK47 wielding Bandit/Poachers indiscriminately mow down herds of elephants in remote regions? How is this going to be Scientifically proven to satisfy International Delegates and a Secretariat that have a very obvious trading bias driven by the so called "sustainable utilisation" flawed philosophy; where the endangered species they are supposed to be protecting seem to be mere bargaining chips for trade. How is this Monitoring Team going to be funded and by whom? Who will they be and selected by Whom and who will protect them when they visit regions in chaos where Ivory is traded for guns?
What is "sustainable" when Africa's Elephant population has plummeted from Some 3 million 30 years ago to a mere 272,000 today, according to figures provided by WWF and the World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge, England?
Even the numbers of elephants quoted at the CITES gathering did not tally with the WWF and WCMC figures on the Web. The fact is, that the remaining number of Elephants in Africa is not known. And under such circumstances, surely the precautionary principle should prevail. Official Elephant figures should be taken from only those populations in protected areas, which have been counted, and have a chance of being safeguarded. Elephants outside the protected areas and private land are doomed in the long-term, because it is simply not possible to protect them.
CITES seems to have lost direction and purpose. It is an organisation where coercion and corruption appear to be condoned and flourish openly. The so called "Experts" have failed miserably to produce the accurate data that is needed and when it comes to numbers, both living and dead, they are certainly not the oracle. The only people qualified to provide accurate data are those ordinary folk actually working in the field; who know what is going on, on the ground, who have no vested interests other than the protection of the wildlife under their jurisdiction, and who fly extensively during the course of their conservation duties. Governments cannot be trusted to provide accurate data, because many top officials are involved in lucrative illegal ivory dealings. Scientists cannot be trusted either, because many of them have vested interests by way of funding for their livelihood, so it behoves them to be ambiguous and keep afoot in both camps.
There must be provision made by the CITES authorities to listen and accept the word of lay folk such as Wildlife N.G.O.'s and ordinary wildlife field personnel, who should be consulted on a regular basis by the Monitors, and what they have seen and heard recorded and assessed. CITES should not simply rely on what official statistics emerge from Range State Governments or Scientific Experts far removed from the action, because if they continue to do this, the endangered species they are supposed to save will disappear before their very eyes.
2. The Southern African population of Elephants has been downlisted from the fully protected Schedule 1 to Schedule 11, to allow trade in hides, meat, tail hairs, toenails and live elephants, where an "acceptable destination" is determined by the Scientific authority at the Receiving End.
The Tuli Debacle is still very fresh in everyone's mind. It is a known fact that some of the Animal Dealers involved in the live animal trade have very dubious credentials; that mega corruption exists in Southern Africa, and that unsuitable destinations in the Far East provide an endless and lucrative demand for live elephant babies, who will be subjected to a living hell in far off lands where animal welfare is an alien concept.
Elephant hide is now in great demand in Japan, and Fashion Houses in Europe are being tempted by it too, particularly if it is allowed to be traded legally. All this means that the elephants are in trouble, for Ivory will continue to be stockpiled from those culled for their hide, and live babies will continue to be snatched from their living families and sold for profit to the highest bidders.
And in two years time, we will probably be no further forward and the African Elephant population will have declined further, but the pressure to sell the Ivory Stockpiles will be even greater. Meanwhile the poaching will go on, because the poachers will also be stockpiling buried ivory for sale into the legal system when the trade is opened.
All the 11th COP has achieved is a status quo, with South Africa now entering the trading frenzy where before it could not. South Africa has the infrastructure outlet for large-scale illegal drug and gemstone smuggling and what better cover than the lucrative live animal trade!
It is well documented that poaching has increased since the one off sale to Japan of ivory from Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana two years ago, and increased in all the range States including Southern Africa. Yet at the 11th COP, Kenya, and India stood alone in asking that all elephants be again placed on the Appendix I fully protected schedule.
In my opinion there is just one way to end the slaughter of elephants, and that is to kill the Ivory Trade. Those countries that have been responsible for the plunder of Africa's elephants by providing the markets (i.e. Japan and the West) should establish a fund, perhaps tied to debt relief, overseen by an independent consortium of Wildlife N.G.O.'s such as the Species Survival Network Grouping, who will purchase Ivory Stockpiles throughout all the Range States, ensure that the funds are put back into conservation projects, and then BURN the Ivory they have purchased in order to kill the trade.
As for Elephant hide, it should be as taboo as fur, for in order to own an Elephant Hide handbag, an Elephant has had to die. Everyone who buys one has contributed to the demise of the largest land mammal and should become a pariah for doing so.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust P.O. Box 15555 Nairobi Kenya