So, wild dogs are not on the agenda at the upcoming CITES meeting in Qatar, but elephants are. And, as has so often been the case in the recent past, it’s the trade in their ivory that will again be the headline issue.
Picture: Ian Michler
In this instance, it’s Tanzania and Zambia that are both proposing a downgrading of their elephant populations from Appendix 1 to Appendix 11 and, at the same time, both countries are seeking permission to sell what would amount to just over 80 tons of ivory in one-off auctions.
The arguments for and against trading in ivory are well known to regular readers as they have been aired often enough in the magazine. While the pro-trade viewpoint has some merit, at the end of the day I am a supporter of those calling for an outright ban. It is true that the debate’s finer details, involving politics and economics as well as conservation issues, are complex, but for me, these bog down what in essence should be a big picture issue concerning the survival of a species.
And to highlight this, the requests of Tanzania and Zambia take place at a time when certain regions of the continent are experiencing a dramatic increase in poaching. The pro-trade lobby, based on research conducted by TRAFFIC and MIKE (Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants), claim that this cannot necessarily be linked to the legal sales of ivory. But this is a negligent argument as these same proponents cannot produce evidence showing that the dramatic increase in poaching is definitely not linked to the re-opening of ivory markets. Given this uncertainty, why are we then messing with the future survival of elephants for petty political and economic reasons?
There are other issues here as well. What is going to happen to the money received by the governments involved in the ivory auctions? Will it definitely be spent on conservation initiatives, or is there a greater chance it will be siphoned off by corrupt individuals or swallowed up in national coffers to be spent on ministerial bureaucracy? Neither country in question has a good conservation record, and my experiences with both tell me the latter is a far more likely outcome.
And what about China being sanctioned as a major buyer? This is a country that generally has an appalling lack of concern for wild animal species and, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency, is where the vast majority of illegal ivory is headed.
If we trust what common sense and history tell us about human nature, then more trade will promote more poaching and the killing of wild elephants. And with these ivory auctions now becoming a regular occurrence, it becomes that much easier for illegal ivory to be washed through the sanctioned markets. Until some institution proves conclusively otherwise, it is irresponsible to continue promoting the trade in ivory.
As for the voting: expect the southern African states to support the auction and downgrading as they will no doubt want to push for further ivory sales of their own in the future, and for most other African states to oppose it as their elephant populations struggle under the ever-increasing wave of poaching. For the rest, their votes will be based on petty politics and economics.
Amongst others, the following websites provide insightful comments on the debate:
If you want to add your voice against the ivory trade, click here.