If elephants had their own Olympic games, I imagine them being staged in Amboseli (Kenya) under their Mt. Olympus, Kilimanjaro.
I had the privilege of attending the first week of the 2014 (human) Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and was struck by the similarity between media coverage of the Olympics and that of the elephant. On one hand, the themes of corruption, terrorism, environmental impact and international tension dominated media coverage, particularly leading up to the opening ceremony. Once the games began, however, the stories of courage, strength, commitment and resolve took center stage as these amazing athletes competed in the rinks and on the slopes. Heroes and heroines all, the athletes inspire people around the world to strive to reach their personal best. As incredible as the talent these people possess is, their stories impress me even more.
Meanwhile, on a different international stage, calls for a UN Special Representative dedicated stopping wildlife crime and a proposal to ban the trade in elephant ivory within the United States showcased heroic efforts of a different kind.
The London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade (February 12-13) committed to taking “decisive and urgent action” to stop the illegal trade of all wildlife. Heather Sohl, Chief Species Advisor at WWF-UK, said:
“Governments signing the London Declaration today sent a strong message: Wildlife crime is a serious crime and it must be stopped. This trafficking devastates species populations, but also takes the lives of rangers, impedes countries’ economic development and destabilises society by driving corruption. This is a crisis, not just at a national or regional scale, but one that demands urgent global attention, and so warrants high-level political support through the appointment of a dedicated United Nations Special Representative. It is down to governments to stand by their commitments now and put in place procedures and resources to tackle the crime back in their homelands.”
At the same time, following President Obama’s proposed National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking, the U.S. Department of Interior announced a ban on commercial trade of ivory. The details of this (near complete) ban on ivory trade include:
- Prohibit Commercial Import of African Elephant Ivory: All commercial imports of African elephant ivory, including antiques, will be prohibited.
- Prohibit Commercial Export of Elephant Ivory: All commercial exports will be prohibited, except for bona fide antiques, certain noncommercial items, and in exceptional circumstances permitted under the Endangered Species Act.
- Significantly Restrict Domestic Resale of Elephant Ivory: We will finalize a proposed rule that will reaffirm and clarify that sales across state lines are prohibited, except for bona fide antiques, and will prohibit sales within a state unless the seller can demonstrate an item was lawfully imported prior to 1990 for African elephants and 1975 for Asian elephants, or under an exemption document.
- Clarify the Definition of “Antique”: To qualify as an antique, an item must be more than 100 years old and meet other requirements under the Endangered Species Act. The onus will now fall on the importer, exporter, or seller to demonstrate that an item meets these criteria.
- Restore Endangered Species Act Protection for African Elephants: We will revoke a previous Fish and Wildlife Service special rule that had relaxed Endangered Species Act restrictions on African elephant ivory trade.
- Support Limited Sport-hunting of African Elephants: We will limit the number of African elephant sport-hunted trophies that an individual can import to two per hunter per year.
Together, these efforts are Olympic-sized in their ambition and international scope. Right now, we have more words than demonstrated action. The difficult part remains ahead of us. Nevertheless, this is more than we had before the Olympic Games began just two weeks ago. One thing we can all do immediately is urge everyone we know not to buy ivory — and to spread the word. As one organizer of the London Conference concluded: “Key to supporting those efforts are the agreed actions targeting the consumer end of the supply chain, where reducing the demand for wildlife products is an essential part of the process,”