Monday, April 05, 2010

Denial of new ivory sales a victory for elephants


Ottawa Citizen: Agony and Ivory

Business Daily: Tanzania plans to appeal failed ivory auction proposal

VOA News: Kenya Welcomes Tanzania Ivory Ban

New York Times: Addressing the Ivory Surplus

Environmentalists and conservationists are praising a recent decision by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to deny Tanzania and Zambia the opportunity to sell their ivory stockpiles. This has shined a new light on ivory poaching in Africa, and has lead some to question China’s role in the ivory trade.

Ivory has long been a prized commodity. Experts believe that demand in Asia is behind much of the current poaching. China has been named as one country particularly responsible, where the ivory is made into jewelry, carvings, chess sets, chopsticks and personal seals. In 2009, China opened 37 new ivory stores, leaving little doubt about the destination of much of the world’s ivory. Poachers make big money in their illegal trade. A small pair of tusks can bring a Kenyan poacher as much as the average laborer earns in a year. Tanzania’s proposal involved selling 200,000 pounds of ivory, worth $20 million. Zambia’s proposal would sell 48,000 pounds, which would bring $4 million.

Animal protection activists in the United States estimate that 36,000 elephants were victims of poachers last year. Ian Redmond, a biologist and elephant expert from the United Kingdom says that elephants are being killed for their ivory across Africa. For example, Zimbabwe lost 3,000 elephants last year. Chad has lost 80% of its elephants since 2006. Even more drastically, Sierra Leone’s elephants disappeared in November of 2009. This brings the number of countries in Africa with elephants from 37 to 36. Tanzania claims its elephant population was increasing from 55,000 in 1989 to nearly 137,000 in the most recent survey. Zambia estimates its elephant population is 27,000 and increasing.

The international community was alarmed at the free falling elephant populations as a result of drastic poaching in the 1980’s. It responded in 1989 with a total ban on ivory sales using the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). However, this impenetrable wall soon had cracks. In 2007 CITES allowed a so-called “one-off” sale of excess ivory stockpiles in four countries. These stockpiles came from ivory taken by the government from poachers and from elephants that died naturally. Proponents believed that this would sate the demand, but experts believe that it has in fact driven up demand by allowing “legal” cover for illicit ivory.

There is growing concern linking China’s expansive growth in Africa to this increased poaching. Africa is happy to have the infrastructure that China is building. But this development also has a dark side, bringing Chinese workers to Africa. This has in turn provided an easier way for the black market in China to hire poachers and bring ivory back.

CITES’ denial of new ivory sales is a victory for conservationists and elephants. However, it is only a small battle in a much larger war. Until a solution to the bigger problem of demand can be found, elephants will still be killed for their valuable ivory.


1) Should international law be used to protect specific species? Or should protection efforts rely on economic development programs to make poaching less enticing?

2) International law can prevent supply, but how can it be used to reduce the demand in ivory sales?

1 comment:

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