According to a new paper published in the journal Conservation Biology that’s likely to spark controversy, if we’re really serious about saving elephants from poachers, we have to shut down all domestic and international markets for ivory and destroy every government stockpile.
With the exception of two government sales held in 1999 and 2008, the international trade in ivory has been banned since 1989. Unfortunately, demand for ivory has led to an increase in poaching and continues to threaten vulnerable populations of elephants.
It’s clear that the slaughter is decimating Africa’s elephants; according to the Wildlife Conservation Society, 96 elephants are killed every day, while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates 30,000 elephants are killed in Africa every year for their tusks.
However, the debate about how to shut the trade down continues. Some continue to argue that putting ivory from stockpiles back on the market and carefully regulating the trade will help save elephants by meeting the demand and raising funds to to support conservation, but the argument that this will only help fuel demand and provide a cover for the illegal trade is much stronger.
The paper, written by Elizabeth Bennett, the Vice President for Species Conservation at WCS, argues that stockpiles offer an avenue for illegal ivory to make its way into the market, while financial incentives of breaking the law outweigh the consequences, and the fact that it’s virtually impossible to tell the difference between legal and illegal ivory only compounds the problem. Additionally, she argues that the biggest problem with legalized trade is that corruption is undermining efforts to effectively regulate sales.
According to a statement, “the paper looked at the corruption index of 177 assessed countries, noting that half of the 12 countries in Africa that contain elephants are in the bottom 40 percent. Six of the eight countries identified by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as most implicated in ivory trafficking globally are in the bottom half of the most corrupt countries in the world.”
Already, some steps are being taken that this study supports. Governments, including those in the U.S., China, Belgium, France and the Philippines, have recently stood up for elephants by destroying stockpiles, while others are working on trade bans. We know Asia is a huge market, but the U.S. isn’t far behind. While a federal ivory ban is in the works, this week New Jersey became the first state to pass a law banning the trade, which bans both the import and in-state sales of ivory and rhino horn. New York is still considering similar legislation.
The paper also notes that the problems will only grow as prices for ivory increase and that while on-the-ground efforts can help stem the losses, the most effective thing that can be done is to stop making the trade profitable by killing demand.
“In the long term, the only sustainable solution is for the demand for ivory – the ultimate driver of the system – to be reduced. Until that happens, if elephants are to survive, we need to close existing legal markets,” said Bennett.
Right now, elephant and rhino advocates are planning a Global March for Elephants and Rhinos for October 4 to show their support for bans on both ivory and rhino horns to keep these species from disappearing from our world forever.
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