Perhaps the most well known and highly controversial issue in wildlife recent history. The ivory crisis is complex, involving military style operations and players, transnational organized crime groups, and political corruption. Elephants themselves are an animal torn between love and hate. Yes, an iconic species but with often fatal human-elephant conflicts, meaning conservation views can be divided.
However, it is obvious that without them the environment and local communities both suffer. From financial revenue, they support Africa's economy through wildlife tourism, and in the forest, fruit bearing trees rely on them for seed dispersal. Therefore it is a devastating fact that an elephant is poached every twenty minutes, and as poachers target older elephants (with larger ivory hauls) they often tear families apart, removing the crucial female matriarch.
- IVORY TUSKS - Dubbed 'White Gold' for creating Decorative Items
- TROPHIES - Sport Hunting
- SKIN - Legally sold from culled sources; sales to the U.S have doubled in 10 years
The worldwide international commercial ban on ivory in 1989 [where African elephants were protected under Appendix I by CITES, (Asian species had received Appendix I protection back in 1975)] was described as one of the most hotly debated cases of international intervention in wildlife trade and conservation history. Whilst NGOs, certain Governments, and conservationists alike supported the ban, Southern African countries opposed the ruling, arguing the exploitation of elephant products constituted an important economic resource for local people (despite in most countries revenue from sales funneling into government departments rather than community projects).
So the question was raised 'How much is an elephant worth?'
By 1997 elephant populations of Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe were stable, and CITES transferred them to Appendix II (allowing controlled trade with export permits) and certified two legal sales (in 1999 and 2008) of stockpiled ivory from these countries (South Africa joined the second sale after their elephant population was deemed stable in 2000). There were only two buyers, Japan and China. The legal ivory trade provided the mechanism for laundering poached ivory into a now booming consumer market and elephant deaths skyrocketed.
The USA, Kenya, UAE, Republic of Congo, Gabon, the Philippines, China, France, Chad, Belgium, Hong Kong and Ethiopia have all sent powerful messages that trading in ivory is a criminal activity and its value is not worth that of the threats to national security, local community members and this majestic species, by crushing or burning their stockpiled ivory (from either natural mortality or seized from illegal trade). Destroying this ivory ensures that it is kept out of the market and it can never be made available for any potential future legal trade.
A global strategy is needed to combat this conservation issue and end all trade in ivory (legal and illegal). Range states, stakeholders, transit and consumer countries are all urged to work together, sharing resources and intelligence to reduce global demand and breakdown criminal networks.