Michael McCarthy: Conservationists warned us of the dangers. Now look

Michael McCarty writes in the Independent: All around the world, wildlife and habitats are under threat: forests are being cut down, seas are being polluted, fish stocks are plummeting, seabirds and dolphins are vanishing, and the great mammals such as India's tigers and Africa's rhinoceroses and elephants are falling to poachers

Michael McCarty writes in the Independent:

All around the world, wildlife and habitats are under threat: forests are being cut down, seas are being polluted, fish stocks are plummeting, seabirds and dolphins are vanishing, and the great mammals such as India's tigers and Africa's rhinoceroses and elephants are falling to poachers. Can this miserable process ever be stopped? Twenty years ago this year, it briefly seemed so, for the world community came together in Lausanne to ban the ivory trade and so halt the desperate elephant slaughter of the 1970s and 80s. But the ban was undermined, firstly by a Robert Mugabe-inspired auction of "legal" ivory in 1997 and then again by a similar but much larger sale late last year. Conservationists warned of what would happen if the sale went ahead – that if you give a boost to the "legal" trade, you are simply enhancing the opportunity for illegal, poached ivory to be laundered into it. And if you give the trade the biggest boost possible, by opening up the world's largest ivory market, China, that consequence is even more assured. Despite the warnings, UN member states, including Britain, voted to allow the sale and to allow China to take part, despite China's abysmal record of policing its own ivory industry. Now, three months later, the results are becoming apparent: Kenyan wildlife officials say there has been an unprecedented rise in elephant poaching and are linking it directly to the auctions. It is clear that only if there is no ivory trade at all (the original intention of those who banned it in 1989) will the African elephant ultimately be safe. All the sophistry in the world about how legal sales can be tightly controlled – including from the World Wide Fund for Nature – will not stop the slaughter. Last year's decision was lamentable, and the British government should be ashamed for being a party to it.

  Legal Ivory sale linked to poaching surge across Kenya's huge Tsavo National Park

Chinese demand and financial crisis cause surge in Kenya elephant poaching

A combination of the global economic crisis and soaring Chinese demand for ivory has prompted a "dramatic and alarming" surge in elephant poaching in Kenya.

By Mike Pflanz in Amboseli National Park  Five elephants have already been killed this year in Tsavo National Park, site of some of the worst poaching during the 1970s and 1980s, when hundreds of thousands of the animals died.

At least one more large bull was killed in January and four others injured close to Amboseli National Park, famous for its images of huge herds grazing beneath snow-capped Mt Kilimanjaro.

"This is something we have not seen for a very long time, if at all," said Patrick Omondi, elephant coordinator for the Kenya Wildlife Service.

The fresh demand for raw tusks was being driven by an international agreement last year to allow a "one-off sale" of stockpiled ivory from Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe to Japan and China, Mr Omondi said.

"We have to say that what we warned would happen is happening, that this legal sale has restarted the demand for ivory, and illegal poachers and smugglers are now happily back in business to fulfil that demand," he said.

The number of elephant carcases found with their ivory removed jumped from 48 in 2007 to 98 in 2008.

Three Chinese construction teams are rebuilding key roads close to both Amboseli and Tsavo, and in neighbouring Tanzania, where much of the ivory is being smuggled.

"Wherever we see the Chinese coming to work in Africa, whether it is here in Kenya, in Zimbabwe, in Congo, we see an increase in poaching," said Mr Omondi.

The global financial crisis threatens to make the situation worse.

The numbers of visitors to Kenya's safari parks is plummeting, robbing many poor Kenyans of a livelihood drawn from selling souvenirs to tourists or working in game lodges.

At the same time, the price for raw ivory has jumped from £15 to £25 per kilo, meaning a poacher can earn up to £1,500 for two tusks from one elephant.

More than half of the dead elephants found in 2008 close to the park had their tusks removed, something which has not happened since the mass slaughter of 30 years ago, according to the Amboseli Trust for Elephants.

"This is the first time ivory has been stolen from carcases in Amboseli for many years," the charity said in a statement on its website.

"What is now occurring is dramatically and alarmingly different."

Local farmers have occasionally killed problem elephants which raided their fields, but in the past have not stolen the ivory. The animals are also now being killed with poisoned arrows which cause a lingering and painful death.

Slaughter of the elephants:  Legal ivory sale linked to poaching surge across kenya's huge Tsavo National Park

 Slaughter of the elephants: Legal ivory sale linked to poaching surge across Kenya's huge Tsavo National Park

By Michael McCarthy, Reuters 
25 February 2009
An auction of legal ivory from animals like this South African elephant 
is thought to have encouraged poachers in Kenya
There has been an "unprecedented" surge in elephant poaching in one of 
Kenya's principal national parks since a large-scale ivory sale late 
last year, which gave a renewed boost to the international ivory market.
The sale was of more than 100 tonnes of legal ivory from four southern 
African countries whose elephant populations are not threatened, 
Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. It was permitted by the 
UN's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in 
the teeth of fierce opposition from many observers, from 
environmentalists to politicians, who warned it was bound to stimulate 
the illegal ivory trade across Africa, and increase the killing of 
elephants in other countries further north where elephants are much more 
at risk.
The Labour MP Alan Simpson said at the time: "This is obscene. This 
isn't a licence to trade. It's a licence to kill, and Britain should not 
be party to it."
Now five elephants have been killed illegally in the past six weeks in 
Kenya's Tsavo National Park, home to Kenya's largest single elephant 
population of about 11,700. Kenyan wildlife officials and 
conservationists are making a direct link between the recent ivory 
auctions and the deaths.
"We have noted an unprecedented rise of elephant poaching incidents in 
Tsavo," said Jonathan Kirui, Tsavo's Assistant Director. "Our security 
team is on full alert, and is going full force to ensure the poachers 
are deterred."
James Isiche, the director of the East African regional office of the 
International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), is concerned that the 
incident could portend a return to the mass-poaching era of 1970s and 
1980s, when African elephant numbers fell from 1.3 million to 625,000 in 
a decade; the international ivory trade was banned in 1989.
"We believe that there is a strong correlation between this upsurge and 
the ivory stockpiles sales allowed by Cites that were completed in late 
2008," Mr Isiche said. "Our concern is that the situation may be even 
worse in other elephant range states which face more serious law 
enforcement capacity challenges, as compared to Kenya or some of the 
southern Africa countries. The situation is dire, and needs to be 
stopped before it escalates further."
Only last week, a leading elephant researcher, Dr Cynthia Moss, released 
a report indicating that an elaborate poaching syndicate had led to a 
surge in elephant killings in another Kenyan National Park, Amboseli. 
Sources in the Kenyan Wildlife Service say elephant poaching in Kenya 
rose by more than 60 per cent in 2008 compared to 2007.
The bodies of the five elephants recently killed in Tsavo were found, 
with their tusks hacked off, in three different parts of the park. Kenya 
Wildlife Service rangers have arrested two suspected poachers and one 
middleman, and recovered two AK-47 rifles and 38 rounds of ammunition.
IFAW sources say the middleman had already sold the tusks to other 
dealers in the illegal ivory trade network. An elephant carcass was 
found close by. The other elephants are suspected to have succumbed to 
poisoned arrow wounds.
Many people warned that such killings would increase when news of the 
proposed four-nation ivory auction emerged last July. It was the second 
time since the 1989 ivory trade ban that a sale of legal ivory (from 
elephants that died from natural causes) was being permitted; the first, 
from the same four southern African countries, of 50 tonnes of ivory, 
was in 1997, pushed forward by Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, in the face of 
many protests.
The second sale raised even more concerns, not least because, for the 
first time, China was being allowed to bid as a legal ivory buyer, 
alongside Japan. China not only has a potentially gigantic demand for 
ivory, but is already the home of a flourishing underground market.
Conservationists feared that the unleashing of a massive Chinese demand 
for traditional and popular objects such as trinkets, name seals, 
expensive carvings and polished ivory tusks would itself give an 
enormous boost to the illegal trade, which is entirely poaching-based.