Last week the 16th Conference of the Parties to CITES came to an end and the question on everyones lips is; what measures did they take to protect elephants?
At the beginning of the conference, the idealists among us may have looked for an extension to the existing ban on ivory and beyond that a total ban on all ivory sales. A situation that at the very least, would remove any and all confusion around the sale of ivory, it would be illegal. The realists might have been looking for delegates to stand up and call for immediate international funds to enhance security at transit ports from where ivory is being smuggled. They may also have expected a commitment from CITES to categorically state that their ivory trading mechanism has been a shambolic failure, noting that since the two CITES approved so called one-off sales of ivory in 1997 and 2008 there has been a measured increase in elephant poaching to fuel the ivory trade. Such an admission would have provided an opportunity for CITES to address the situation by extending the ban and implementing punishments on those countries deemed to be failing in their ability to halt the illegal export of ivory from their borders and those failing to monitor and act upon the sale of illegal ivory.
This timeframe is directed mainly towards the Gang of Eight, a list selected by CITES as the 8 nations who need to be doing more to tackle the illegal ivory trade through stricter sentences and tougher laws. The conference identified Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda as well as transit countries Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, and top markets China and Thailand as making insufficient efforts to curb the trade. There is no doubt that these countries, and others, need to do more to tighten their ports or monitor ivory sales. However CITES have not offered a plan into how they can help support the Gang of Eight throughout their efforts, they have merely pointed a finger of blame. This is counter-productive, as it risks alienating Nations such as Kenya that have been taking proactive steps to address port security and wildlife security at a field level.
In the lead up to CoP16, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) launched the iWorry campaign it has a singular message say NO to ivory. We called on people to sign a petition to this effect, which was presented to John Scanlon, Secretary General to CITES, during CoP16. We are grateful to our friends at the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) for ensuring that the petition, with in excess of 40,000 signatures was placed into the hands of Mr Scanlon. A statement to him from us, and all the signatories, that the world is watching and expecting action to protect elephants. Action that has not been forthcoming from CITES and so, as we reflect on what has been a disappointing CoP for a number of key species, we are left with no doubt that non-governmental organisations like the DSWT must keep up the fight for elephants.
Our Anti-Poaching Teams, supported by our Aerial Surveillance Units will be working tirelessly to protect elephants at a field level, working ever more closely with the Kenya Wildlife Service. Our Mobile Veterinary Units, which number three as of January 2013, will bring essential and often lifesaving aid to injured wild animals in the field. While through collaborations with other NGOs, local people and the Kenya Forest Service we will impart more programmes to secure wildlife habitats and ensure there are well protected areas in which elephants and other wild species can roam. All the time we will ensure we are on-hand to answer the call to rescue any orphan infant elephant, so that it might be afforded a second chance.
CITES may have failed the elephant at this meeting, but we the people have it in our power to come together and fight for this intelligent, gentle and social mammal. There is hope and with your support we can still save the species.