Now is the time the world has to fight for the Elephants.
The integrity and credibility of the International organization established to regulate the trade in Endangered Species, namely CITES or the International Convention for Trade in Endangered Species, has long been questionable, mainly because of this organization's blatant bias towards trade over and above its mandate of safeguarding the world's endangered species. Sadly, today's world seems to have lost ethics about what is right and what is wrong. Greed and corruption sway decisions that adversely affect our fragile planet and the teeth of the world's largest living land mammal 'the elephant' have become a very hot political issue.
In March 2010 at Doha in the Middle East, the 15th Conference of the Parties that are signatories to the CITES Convention will seal the ultimate fate of Elephants in Africa, and certainly those remaining in East and Central Africa when Tanzania and Zambia will seek authority to sell their ivory stockpiles.
Either the elephants will be granted a reprieve through the imposition of another (this time long-term) international ivory trade ban, or the demise of the world's elephants will be sealed simply because signatories to the Convention selfishly seek trade with ivory consuming Nations above the survival of the elephants. The main consumers of both legal and illegal ivory are the Far Eastern countries of the world, mainly China, Thailand and Japan all of whom are important trading partners of the West, so the elephants have always been the pawns in a political game of trade.
Kenya and Mali are chairing a six day Meeting in Brussels from January 22nd bringing together 23 countries that are members of the Convention aimed at forging a united front against Tanzania and Zambia's proposal seeking CITES' permission for the sale of their ivory stockpiles.
It is a known fact that there has been an alarming upsurge in illegal poaching since CITES sanctioned the sale of the so-called legal ivory stockpiles of four Southern African countries in 2008 - namely South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and, astonishingly, even Zimbabwe, licensing China, for the first time as a legal bidder along with Japan, despite the fact that China is the main driver of the illegal ivory trade History is simply repeating itself since the same pattern followed a previous so-called legal CITES sanctioned stockpile sale in 2006.
Between 8% and l0% of Africa's remaining elephants (now estimated to number at best some 300,000, down from 1.3 million 100 years ago) are being killed annually. The price of ivory has escalated nine fold, currently standing at between US$ 1500 - $5000 a Kg in the Far East. The price paid to the poacher and Buying Middlemen Dealers has escalated in tandem, providing a growing incentive amongst impoverished Africans to kill elephants for personal gain. Yet again, as in the seventies, eighties and early nineties a veritable WAR is being fought over Africa's elephants, and people are dying along with the elephants as a result.
Apart from the poaching toll, there is the unseen silent death of all the tuskless dependent young i.e. all calves under 5 years of age who are still milk dependent and cannot survive without their murdered mother's milk. Then there are many others that have already, and will continue to succumb to the affects of drought since Africa is predicted to become ever drier and more prone to the sort of devastating drought experienced in 2009 when rivers and lakes dried up and elephants died in large numbers as a result. To this, add the toll taken by disease transmitted by drought stricken domestic livestock, as well as premature deaths due to psychological grief and stress. Elephants are known to be vulnerable to the same kind of psychological problems that affect humans and they have been scientifically proven to be 'human' in terms of intelligence, emotional family and friendship bonding, nurturing of one another, along with age progression, and expected life span. All these factors have, and will, take a further toll of elephants beyond that of the crooked ivory syndicates that organise the poaching. Such factors must also be taken into account by CITES officials charged with assessing the viability of trading demands. The plausible argument that funds so generated are needed for elephant conservation are invalid, for such funds merely fill the pockets of corrupt Government officials where corruption is overtly endemic.
Elephants are now more endangered than ever, and yet there is evidence that CITES still harbours a bias in favour of trade at the expense of the survival of the elephants. Evidence of this is through the Secretariate's selection of pro trade oriented individuals on the CITES Panel of Experts charged with assessing the management practices of such countries. Currently the panel is in Tanzania and Zambia and the choice of its officials has been questioned by Kenya.
Africa's elephants faced annihilation after 3 decades of rampant poaching during the seventies and eighties. Only a total ban imposed by CITES under intense international pressure in 1989 saved the situation, but the ban was lifted before even one generation of young elephants had been born because CITES allowed Southern African countries to sell their so-called legal stockpiles.
Thereafter poaching escalated instantly. Illegal ivory hauls amounting to some 29,000 Kgs of African ivory were seized representing the lives of at least 43,000 tusked elephants, not counting their milk dependent young. It must not be forgotten that illegal seizures represent only about 10% of what slips through the net undetected. DNA testing proved beyond all doubt that over 1/3 of this illegal haul originated from elephants poached in Tanzania's Southern Selous National Reserve and at the same time the Japanese refused DNA testing on another huge illegal stockpile seized in Osaka, similarly widely believed to have also originated in Tanzania. Significantly, that same year Tanzania put in a bid to CITES to sell its ivory stockpile, which, fortunately, was turned down after intense international pressure.
NOW HISTORY IS REPEATING ITSELF. Zambia along with Tanzania have again put forward a request to CITES to sell their so-called legal stockpiles without consulting Kenya whose elephants cross over into Tanzania. This, despite over 14,380 kgs of illegal ivory seized in Vietnam, the Philippines and Kenya during in 2009, (again proven through DNA testing to have originated from Tanzanian and Zambian elephants, mainly from the Selous National Reserve, allegedly with Government collusion). Again, this represents just a fraction of what slips through the net undetected and since then gunshots have been heard regularly in southern Selous National Reserve and gun-toting poaching gangs have even been spotted by visiting tourists, so the poaching continues with impunity! Elephant population figures have allegedly been fudged and inflated and are scientifically 'dubious' at best.
Likewise 6,200 kgs of ivory identified as coming from Zambia has recently been seized in Singapore as has another 6,000Kgs. of fresh blood stained tusks intercepted in the Philippines en route to China. DNA testing has proved that Tanzania and Zambia are driving poaching in the region, something that will impact on the elephants of neighbouring States.
Central Africa's forest elephants are on the brink of extinction. Should they disappear from the world's important tropical forest lungs, the global consequences would be far reaching for they disperse the seeds of the forests trees and ensure their replacement and continuity Were elephants to disappear in Eastern Africa, many other wildlife species would be adversely affected, especially the grazers, for elephants are the Gardeners of Eden that recycle scrubland into the grassland upon which all grazing species depend. East African Nations would lose the mainstay of their economies, and this would increase poverty, insecurity and misery for millions of deprived people.
The richer countries of the world have to make a stand against the lust of the Far East Nations for animal products. Nor should they be taken in by the argument that funds from so-called legal sales will further enhance elephant protection in the countries that are responsible for killing them. This money enhances corrupt pockets and further jeopardizes elephant survival. Nor should the European Union conveniently be taking the cowardly stand of abstaining simply because they cannot all agree. By so doing they deny the elephants votes that could mean the difference between life and certain death.
This year the Vote of the Signatories to the CITES convention will seal the fate of Africa's elephants one way or another, and because of this all caring people have a duty to speak out forcefully, or else become guilty of sinning through silence.
We the undersigned are calling upon the Conference of the Parties of CITES to not sanction any further trade in elephant ivory when meeting in Doha in March 2010.
We ask that the Parties recognize and respect the impact on wild elephants of the legalized sale of stockpiled ivory by four Southern African Nations in 2008. That sale was sanctioned by CITES under the flag of conservation, however all evidence from the field indicates that subsequent to the sale, ivory poaching in Africa escalated, with the value of illegal ivory increasing nine fold.
While CITES may choose to argue the specifics of any increase, it cannot dispute the evidence, that ivory seizures have increased and that numbers of poached elephants have increased since the CITES sanctioned sales. To that effect, we the undersigned are calling on CITES to step away from negotiations related to future ivory sales, at least until thorough research has been provided to the Parties by MIKE, Traffic and respected organizations in the field of wildlife conservation.
When agreeing the 2008 sales, CITES stipulated that no further sales could be considered for another 9 years. It turned out that this tiem fame only related to the four Nations that sold ivory in 2008. It would be logical and forward thinking of CITES to stipulate this time frame on all countries and so not consider any ivory trade until at least 2017 and even then, only following thorough review of all available information on the impact of legalized sales on wild elephant populations and the impact of funds raised through those sales on conservation - if any.
We thank you for your time in hearing our views and hope that at the 15th Conference of the Parties of CITES you will act to protect elephants. In doing so you will be protecting not only a species, but all the flora and fauna that is dependent on that species - including Man. Wildlife tourism is the life blood for many African Nations and as a flagship species; the elephant can not be allowed to be annihilated for trinkets and trade.