The future survival of the elephants of Central and Eastern Africa will be determined by CITES in March 2010 at the conference of the parties in Doha.

  Now is the time the world has to fight for the Elephants

  Now is the time the world has to fight for the Elephants.

The integrity and credibility of the International organization established to regulate the trade in Endangered Species, namely CITES or the International Convention for Trade in Endangered Species, has long been questionable, mainly  because of this organization’s blatant bias towards trade over and above its mandate of safeguarding the world’s endangered species.   Sadly, today’s world seems to have lost ethics about what is right and what is wrong.   Greed and corruption sway decisions that adversely affect our fragile planet and the teeth of the world’s largest living land mammal – the elephant – have become a very hot political issue.

In March 2010 at Doha in the Middle East, the l5th Conference of the Parties that are signatories to the CITES Convention will seal the ultimate fate of Elephants in Africa, and certainly those remaining in East and Central Africa when Tanzania and Zambia will seek authority to sell their ivory stockpiles. 

Either the elephants will be granted a reprieve through the imposition of another (this time long-term) international ivory trade ban, or the demise of the world’s elephants will be sealed simply because signatories to the Convention selfishly seek trade with ivory consuming Nations above the survival of the elephants.   The main consumers of both legal and illegal ivory are, of course, the Far Eastern countries of the world, mainly China, Thailand and Japan all of whom are important trading partners of the West, so the elephants have always been the pawns in a political game of trade.  

Kenya and Mali will co-chair a six day Meeting in Brussels from January 22nd to bring together 27 countries that are members of the Convention aimed at forging a united front against Tanzania and Zambia’s proposal seeking CITES permission for the sale of their stockpiles.

It is a known fact that there has been an alarming upsurge in illegal poaching since CITES sanctioned the sale of the so-called legal ivory stockpiles of four Southern African countries in 2008 – namely South Africa, Botswana, and, astonishingly, even Zimbabwe, licensing China, for the first time as a legal bidder along with Japan, despite the fact that China is the main driver of the illegal ivory trade   History is simply repeating itself since the same pattern followed a previous so-called legal CITES sanctioned stockpile sale in 2006.

Between 8% and l0% of Africa’s remaining elephants (now estimated to number at best some 300,000, down from l.3 million 100 years ago) are being killed annually.   The price of ivory has escalated ninefold, currently standing at between US$ 1500 - $5000 a Kg in the Far East.   The price paid to the killer poacher and Buying Middlemen Dealers has escalated in tandem, providing a growing incentive amongst impoverished Africans to kill elephants for personal gain.  Yet again, as in the seventies, eighties and early nineties a veritable WAR is being fought over Africa’s elephants, and people are dying along with the elephants as a result.

Apart from the poaching toll, there is the unseen silent death of all the tuskless dependent young i.e. all calves under 5 years of age who are still milk dependent and cannot survive without it.   Then there many others that have already, and will continue to succumb to the affects of drought since Africa is predicted to become  ever drier and more prone to the sort of devastating drought experienced in 2009 when rivers and lakes dried up and elephants died in large numbers as a result.    To this add the toll taken by disease transmitted by drought stricken domestic livestock as well as premature deaths due to psychological grief and stress.   Elephants are known to be vulnerable to the same kind of psychological problems that affect humans and they have been scientifically proven to be “human”  in terms of intelligence, emotional family and friendship bonding, nurturing of one another, along with age progression, and expected life span.  All these factors have, and will, take a further toll of elephants beyond that of the crooked ivory syndicates that organize the poaching.   Such factors must also be taken into account by CITES officials charged with assessing the viability of trading demands.   The plausible argument that funds so generated are needed for elephant conservation are invalid, for such funds merely fill the pockets of corrupt Government officials where corruption is overtly endemic.

Elephants (and Rhinos) are now more endangered than ever, and yet there is evidence that CITES still harbours a bias in favour of trade at the expense of the survival of the elephants.   Evidence of this is through the Secretariate’s selection of pro trade oriented individuals on the CITES Panel of Experts charged with assessing the management practices of such countries.  Currently the panel is in Tanzania and Zambia and the choice of its officials has been questioned by Kenya.

Africa’s elephants faced annihilation after 3 decades of rampant poaching during the seventies and eighties.   Only a total ban imposed by CITES under intense international pressure in l989 saved the situation, but the ban was lifted before even one generation of young elephants had been born because CITES allowed Southern African countries to sell their so-called legal stockpiles. 

Thereafter poaching escalated instantly.   Illegal  ivory hauls amounting to some 29,000 Kgs of African ivory were seized representing the lives of at least 43,000 tusked elephants, not counting their milk dependent young.   It must not be forgotten that illegal seizures represent only about 10% of what slips through the net undetected.   DNA testing proved beyond all doubt that over 1/3  of this illegal haul originated from elephants poached in Tanzania’s Southern Selous National Reserve and at the same time the Japanese refused DNA testing on another huge illegal stockpile seized in Osaka, similarly widely believed to have also originated in Tanzania.      Significantly, that same year Tanzania put in a bid to CITES to sell its ivory stockpile, which, fortunately, was turned down after intense international pressure. 

NOW HISTORY IS REPEATING ITSELF.   Zambia along with Tanzania have again put forward a request to CITES to sell their so-called legal stockpiles without consulting Kenya whose elephants cross over into Tanzania.   This, despite over 14,380 kgs.of illegal ivory seized in Vietnam, the Phillipines and Kenya during in 2009, (again proven through DNA testing to have originated from Tanzanian and Zambian elephants, mainly from the Selous National Reserve, allegedly with Government collusion).   Again, this represents just a fraction of what slips through the net undetected and since then gunshots have been heard regularly in southern Selous National Reserve and gun-toting poaching gangs have even been spotted by visiting tourists, so the poaching continues with impunity!   Elephant population figures have allegedly been fudged and inflated and are scientifically   “iffy” at best.  

Likewise 6,200 kgs of ivory identified as coming from Zambia has recently been seized in Singapore as has another 6,000Kgs. of fresh blood stained tusks intercepted in the Phillipines en route to China.   DNA testing has proved that Tanzania and Zambia are driving poaching in the region, something that will impact on the elephants of neighboring States.  

The Far Eastern countries of the world are the main culprits for the demise of Africa’s elephants.   China is the main consumer of ivory, whether legal or illegal, followed by Japan and Thailand, with Vietnam and the Phillipines as important conduits to those destinations.   These countries should be shamed for so blatantly depleting the earth’s natural resources and biodiversity and in so doing further impoverishing millions of Africans.   Central Africa’s forest elephants are on the brink of extinction.   Should they disappear from the world’s important tropical forest lungs, the global consequences would be far reaching for they disperse the seeds of the forests trees and ensure their replacement and continuity   Were elephants to disappear in Eastern Africa, many other wildlife species would be adversely affected, especially the grazers, for elephants are the Gardeners of Eden that recycle scrubland into the grassland upon which all grazing species depend.   East African Nations would lose the mainstay of their economies, and this would increase poverty, insecurity and misery for millions of deprived people.

The rich countries of the world have to make a stand against the greed of the Far East for animal products.   Nor should they be taken in by the argument that funds from so-called legal sales will further enhance elephant protection in the countries that are responsible for killing them.   This money enhances corrupt pockets and further jeopardizes elephant survival.    Nor should the European Union conveniently be taking the cowardly stand of abstaining simply because they cannot all agree.   By so doing they deny the elephants votes that could mean the difference between life and certain death.  

This year the Vote of the Signatories to the CITES convention will seal the fate of Africa's elephants one way or another, and because of this all caring people have a duty to speak our forcefully, or else become guilty of sinning through silence.


  • Pass the word around. 
  • Put messages on your web Page, your blogs, and sign petitions to stop the trade.
  • Fuel momentum through the powerful medium of social networking, on Twitter, on Face book.
  • In the Hotels and Clubs
  • On the doors of your Member of Parliament
  • In Parliament. 
  • Boycott ivory sales and boycott those that support the trade.
  • Put pressure on CITES so that they are forced to listen -
  • And support Kenya for its stand on holding the ivory ban, choosing Kenya as your destination over other countries. 

By Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick DBE MBE MBD DVMS.

To understand the issues better concerning the CITES IVORY WARS click here

Poaching is a retro fashion we can do without
January 23, 2010

Don’t you just hate it when you solve a problem and move on — only for the problem to start up again as soon as you’ve turned your back?

And of course, there’s one difference: it’s rather more resistant to solution than it was before.

It’s hard for any of us to deal with, whether it’s a medical problem, a family problem or a professional problem. But it’s doubly hard for a journalist, for this is a profession that thrives on the new.

To write a piece saying “the same old same old problem is keepin’ on keepin’ on” really doesn’t cut the mustard.

Out in Tanzania, the old problem — the one we all thought had been solved — is back again and twice as bad as before. Like an outbreak of retro fashion, like the second coming of a rock dinosaur, the great African wildlife problem is back in full swing.

Elephant poaching. So Eighties, so last century. But it has been upgraded to an ultra-cool 21st-century crime. The worst of it is happening in the Selous Game Reserve, the largest protected area in Africa. Protected! Ha! They are killing elephants at the rate of 50 and more a month, and the authorities, such as they are, are torching the carcasses to cover it up.

The Selous is one of Africa’s great destinations. Out there you can find luxury in the wilderness, out there you can have those great African experiences. It is a place where the African immensities are at their most immense. There is, then, a financial as well as a moral imperative behind the need to stop the killing.

But there is also a great deal of short-term money in killing elephants. Much of the ivory goes to China and Japan. In Japan, if you want to prove you are a fully jumped-up member of the middle classes, you must stamp your name with a chunk of a dead elephant. DNA technology has established that great quantities of this ivory come from Tanzania.

The finger is well and truly pointed. Tanzania has established itself as the leading country for the illegal slaughter and export of ivory.

Action on the ground is urgently needed, and that requires political will from the top. But in the heart of the Selous, the game scouts have been deprived of their allowances, and are disgruntled and demoralised. Many of them are not blind-eying the poachers, they are now taking an active part in poaching themselves.

In 1988, after ten years of intense poaching, there were 32,000 elephants in the Selous. By 1998, numbers were back up to 67,0000. The most recent counts, made last year, show that there are now 38,000. How long can the population sustain such a rate of loss? How long before recovery becomes impossible? Some estimates put this at two years.

It is not just the waste of good elephants that gets me; it is the fact that they are being killed for such a silly reason. Across Tanzania, and throughout the Selous, elephants are dying of vanity.

So what is Tanzania’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism doing about all this? It is seeking to stop the illegal trade — by making it legal. Tanzania, in a joint effort with Zambia, is making a serious attempt to get elephants off the list of prohibited species when CITES — the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species — next meets in March. This is ostensibly to allow them to make money from old stocks of ivory; it would also make things twice as easy for poachers and smugglers.

Yet Tanzania once ran one of the most devastating anti-poaching campaigns in history. At the end of the Eighties, the Tanzanian Government set up Operation Uhai, in which soldiers from the Tanzanian People’s Defence Force were deployed against the poachers. In 1988 alone, they confiscated 10,000 guns and 700 people were prosecuted; a triumph of action and organisation, but more especially, a triumph of political will. Tanzania is rightly proud of it. What the country needs now is the same sort of will and action. There are many people who care very much about the wildlife of Tanzania, not least because the tourism industry depends on it. I have been to the Serengeti; I have mingled with the wildebeest migration, perhaps the most extraordinary sight on Earth. I have had a fine time, and met many fine people.

But people involved in wildlife in Tanzania are not being listened to. No personal representation at the ministry is granted, no letter is answered. As with the game scouts, the problem is being at best blind-eyed. The elephants are being killed: and it seems that no one in authority wants to know. The Selous also holds an internationally important population of rhinos: how long before the poachers turn on them? Meanwhile, the retro fashion for elephant killing continues and the need for a second coming of Operation Uhai is more acute with every passing day.