Elephants in the Dust

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Numerous headlines abound from the CITES meeting ongoing in Bangkok, including the release of the long-awaited report on the status of the African elephant, entitled “Elephants in the Dust — The African Elephant Crisis.”  (Click here for News and here for the Report).

A grim title for a grim subject, and disturbing because it indicates that the elephants have pretty much have had it, or “bitten the dust.”  More a compilation of existing knowledge and thought, the report confirms (1) demand for ivory has tripled in the past decade, due largely to China’s growing middle class; (2) organized crime directs the killing of elephants and flow of ivory to Asia; (3) record numbers of elephants are being slaughtered; (4) more international cooperation is needed to enforce laws and capture the criminals and (5) consumers need to be educated that elephants do not shed their tusks annually, they must die for the ivory to be harvested.

CITES has put three African and five Asian nations on notice that they have failed to adequately crack down on the ivory trade, and that they must come up with a detailed and credible plan of action for curbing the trade across and within their borders (within the next week). They must then meet those targets or face trade sanctions next year. The nations threatened with sanctions are Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and China. Sanctions would keep those nations from trading even in legal wildlife products by barring other CITES member nations from buying from them.  A great deal of bravado but does anyone believe those eight nations will be able  or willing to create a meaningful plan by next week?

In fact, the Chinese government is lobbying to ease restrictions on ivory trade.  China’s wildlife trade official has insisted that African elephant herds could endure a robust international ivory trade. Late year, he wrote the CITES Secretariat, saying that China should be allowed to buy confiscated tusks from poached elephants in addition to those legally obtained. Asian demand, he wrote, required about 220 tons of raw ivory — equaling the lives of roughly 20,000 elephants — every year.

“Elephants in the Dust” promotes 10 recommendations for action, one of which is:  “Reduce market demand for illegal ivory by conducting targeted and effective awareness-raising about the devastating impacts of the illegal trade in ivory, and aimed at potential or current buyers in East and Southeast Asia.”  There is little any of us can do about poverty in Africa, corruption in governments, organized crime and human-wildlife conflict.  And, as individuals, we cannot conduct education campaigns in Mandarin.  However, we can make a difference by raising awareness among everyone we know and enlisting them to do the same.  Our message can reach beyond our own borders. Let’s do what we can to keep elephants literally, not metaphorically, in the dust!