Tag Archives: tusks

1.29 million voice their opposition to the ivory trade in a petition to the EU

 

1.29 million people around the world have voiced their absolute opposition to the ivory trade in an online petition aimed at the EU, ahead of the major United Nations’ Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) conference this month. At this roundtable, politicians, wildlife experts and conservation groups from 182 member countries will assemble to discuss, amongst many other things, which species will fall into Appendix I- that is, which species will be classified as endangered.

While populations of the African elephant are rapidly plummeting and are expected to become extinct in 25 years, they are not listed in Appendix I in all countries. If they are, they will be afforded the highest protection across the board, and the ivory trade will be outlawed worldwide. Currently, however, the EU, WWF and a number of African states are voting to enable the trade which will trigger both an increase in the supply and demand in ivory.

These proposals come at a time when the recent findings of the Great Elephant Census have revealed there are far fewer elephants than originally thought. In the 18 countries that participated in the survey, the count shows 352,271 elephants. Namibia refused to participate in the count, and South Sudan and Central African Republic could not be assessed due to the current instability and conflict, though with the estimated these 3 countries, the total African African elephant population sits at less than 400,000 (Namibia, 20,000+, South Sudan, less than 2,500, Central African Republic, less than 3,000).

Looking back at historical figures of populations, the chances of the African elephant becoming extinct within a couple of decades is becomingly frightening realistic. In the late 1970s, when Ian Douglas-Hamilton, the renowned Kenyan elephant conservationist, counted 1.3 million. He recounted again in the 90s and found that elephants had halved in number to 600,000. The recent Census, led by Dr Mike Chase, has revealed the population has fallen by 30% in 7 years and we are now sitting at under 400,000 elephants. Governments must look hard at these glaring numbers and understand what this means.

The countries that back the trade have populations that are increasing, and have purported that the trade can provide lucrative economic returns in order to better manage elephant populations. This case however, fails to take into consideration that the elephants are free to roam across borders. The proposal also adopts the premise that you need to kill some to save some.

At a time when elephants are hanging dangerously on the precipice of extinction, now is not a time to gamble with policies that could push this species off the face of the earth within 25 years. Allowing ivory sales under any circumstance will reinvigorate the demand-supply mechanism and trigger more poaching, more elephant deaths, as it has happened in the past.

The ivory trade forms a significant part of the US$20 billion illegal wildlife trade and results in the loss of an elephant every 15 minutes. We need to share intelligence, improve the judicial systems on wildlife protection laws, strengthen training of law enforcement agencies, and increase the drive to crackdown on people along the chain, from poachers to traders through smarter undercover operations and forensic science. We need to talk about this issue as it relates to human development- about people, society, in order for it to gain more support at world roundtables. None of this is new news- but for any of this to make a difference, it needs to backed by unified political will and support from all governments, worldwide- and the CITES conference is the best platform to show this.

As the next conference of this kind will not take place until another 3 years’ time, it is the best opportunity for countries to make a concrete change in international law to save the African elephant from extinction. We’ve lost 100,000 elephants in a 3-year timespan before. There just isn’t any time to lose and immediate action must be made.

To join 1.29 million others on the Avaaz to sign the petition and tell the EU that the ivory trade must be banned entirely, in all countries and circumstances, please click here.

Meet the most poached animal in Africa

Ian Douglas-Hamilton, the great renowned Kenyan elephant conservationist, counted the number of African elephants in the late 70s. He found that there were about 1.3million. He recounted again in the 90s and found that elephants had halved in number to 600k.

Where are we at now? 470k. 

The Great Elephant Census, which is currently being assessed as we speak, so far reconfirms the same bleak trajectory.

While results so far show that elephants are slightly growing in number in South Africa and Zambia, and flatlining in Botswana- which could have something to do with the EU & other states thinking that these increases in numbers justify once-off sales in ivory- let’s look at the larger picture. 

Tanzania: half of their elephants gone in 6 years

Mozambique: half, in 3 years

Total population of forest elephants, more than half gone in about decade

So, returning to the original global numbers.

1970s: 1.3 mil 

1990s: 600k

Today: 470k

It’s no new news that this is a grim picture. Though sometimes I wonder if we’re just watching a big failure taking place, and making, largely, no impact.

I’m a firm believer in maintaining a healthy level of optimism but this has to be balanced with reality. And as many who have worked very intimately with elephants have noted, it can be hard to keep positive when you witness disappointment after disappointment. 

Hopefully the final results of the consensus can be presented at CoP17 in September to show that elephants cannot be gambled with this to-ing and fro-ing of their classification in CITES and these far too risky policies on the ivory trade.  

Elephants approaching humans to ask for help

In the last few weeks we’ve heard about an elephant in Zimbabwe being shot in the head, and more recently about Tim from Kenya being speared in the head. The former was the result of a botched attempt at murder by a poacher- the latter, frustrations due to human-wildlife conflict. Both elephants reportedly approach humans that they were familiar with to ask for help.

That these stories are making the news on mainstream media is a relief, as it’s a sure sign that it is deemed relevant for mass attention. What is not a relief, however, is that elephants are continuing to suffer badly from the cruelty of humans.

Education, awareness, and political commitment can help to change behaviours and attitudes. Policy reform, adequate enforcement, and community programs can ensure this work is carried out properly and sustainably.

There are 470,000 African elephants left. Zero deserve to suffer. And zero deserve to die by the hand of humans.


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A few decades, 1 million elephants gone

The Melbourne Cricket Ground, where the Commonwealth Games were once held, seats 100k; Levi’s Stadium, where the last Super Bowl was held, 107k; FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, where the 2010 FIFA World Cup was held, seats 95k.

Imagine any of these stadiums being full of individuals- and then all of them being murdered: either by poison or shot, never knowing what hit them, or why. Now imagine these individuals being elephants. That’s the real number of African elephant deaths by poaching in 3 years.

I do not hesitate to use this word, murder, because that’s what it is. Poachers show a reckless indifference to life; have the intent to kill or inflict grievous harm; and there’s a high probability that their act will cause the death of another. These elements constitute murder. Formally, we can’t use the word ‘murder’ because nothing is ever heard or tried in court. And so soft words such as ‘killing’ and ‘poaching’ continue to be used as a default.

Back to the statistics. Imagine 10 of these stadiums filled with individuals, and you’ll get the number of African elephants that have been killed due to poaching in 35 years. 1,000,000 innocent lives, gone. This is the grand scale of death we are talking about. The magnitude of the issue should in no way be underestimated- they will be wiped off the face of the earth within decades if real change is not made soon. We need to stop the killing before the suffering and injustice continues.


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One shipment of 500 elephants to go, please

This time, the shipment is not for a circus, some foreign zoo, or to assist with diplomatic relations and/or to boost a nation’s GDP.

This time, it is to help save them.

500 elephants in Malawi are to be transported to a sanctuary to protect them from poaching and human-wildlife conflict. How? Dart them, winch them into a truck, and drive them for about 300km/185mi to have them delivered to a new sanctuary. This will be the largest elephant relocation in Africa’s history and will take over 12 months.

Slowly, but surely, they will move. And hopefully slowly, but surely, they will survive in a world where humans think that they can treat animals as a commodity.

Malawi is a small country and has 1.5k out of 470k elephants in Africa. But do not underestimate the country for its size- because although it is a tiny land-locked country, they have sufficient funds allocated for protecting elephants, plus the commitment of the government, who have a cooperative relationship with African Parks, an INGO that manages these reserves. That’s two golden nuggets right there- and probably enough to see it all the way through from start to finish.

And so the move begins.

Travel safely, safari njema, beautiful elephants, and hopefully, you will all flourish on the other side.


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What happens when an elephant doesn’t die after you shoot it?

Six weeks ago, Pretty Boy, an elephant in Zimbabwe, was shot in the head. It is believed he turned to flee, and the poachers fired another shot into his shoulder.

The vets found him wandering inside Mana Pools when he apparently approached them, as if he knew they were there to help. He was treated and thankfully survived.

The intelligence of these beautiful creatures should never be underestimated. They think, feel, and experience the world in ways that we will never understand.

With their incredible levels of intelligence and extraordinary memories, these elephants will never understand why they or their family members were shot; will never forget what the poachers looked like; and most lastingly, will never forget how it made them feel. But perhaps all of that doesn’t matter, because their ability to forgive humans, and still peacefully share the same space with them, enables them to stay strong and survive. This will never cease to amaze me. And perhaps their ability to forgive is something that we humans ought to learn from the elephants.


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“Will the ivory burn?”

“Will the ivory burn? You must be sure of that,” President Moi asked, cautiously.

In 1989, the President of Kenya worried about the reaction of Kenyan citizens at the idea of burning at least 3 million dollars worth of ivory. He was aghast when Richard Leakey approached him with the idea, fearful that Kenyans would think it would be an absolute waste of a well-traded commodity, amongst other things. After a lengthy period of persuasion, which was apparently met with much hesitation, he agreed. Moi may not have had the best track record in other fields, but I think this was one of the best decisions he made. For in July in 1989, 12 tonnes of elephant tusks were torched for the first time, making a bold statement that strengthened the country’s credibility in their war against the trade. Subsequently, after the burn, CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, banned the trade. Worldwide.

Turn the clock forward 27 years, and President Kenyatta repeats the same event in Nairobi, only this time, it was met with raving support from Kenyans and international audiences, celebrities, the private sector and civil society.

How things have changed. Through the doom, gloom and anger that we see permeating the social media space, perhaps we should also take a moment to look back, reflect, and take stock of how much progress has been made since then.

There’s a time to angry- but it’s another thing to be able to effectively turn that anger into a driver of positive change.

We need a unified stance from all African countries in order to halt the trade altogether. CITES will be meeting 26 September at another roundtable in Sandton in Joburg to discuss the way forward. Here’s hoping they will reach a consensus that the trade should be banned once and for all.


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Ivory: what to do with it?

There’s a lot of it lying around, stashed away in safe houses under the tightest lock and key in Africa.

Kenya’s government burnt all of theirs in a very bold statement recently to drive home the point that there’s no use for ivory in an, ideally, obsolete trade. So just burn the things. And so they did. After all the black smoke rose into the skies and the tusks and horns reduced to ashes, there’s calm again and it seems like everyone’s on board.

But not quite so. A few African countries including S Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe wish to sell their ivory stockpiles. Their rationale is that the increased supply of ivory should lower the market price of tusks, which should reduce the killing because it won’t be as lucrative for the poachers. The funds could also be used for conservation, apparently.

It is all very interesting thinking, and applying rudimentary economic models to a complex situation might not work. Neither does assuming that funds generated from the sale will actually go to conservation. It is not new news that some of these countries could do with extra revenue to help national development either.

In September, big brother CITES will hold a roundtable in Johannesburg to determine what will happen.

At the end of the day, the real premise of why we should stop the trade should not be lost: that elephants are important, and that the trade must be stopped, in all cases and scenarios, and soon. Hopefully, Africa will reach a unified stance on how they view the trade so that a concerted effort is made to stop the elephants from being poached, once and for all.


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Ivory and ashes

Well done President Uhuru Kenyatta for creating the largest ivory burn in history, and all the global alliances that came together at the summit on the weekend to stand in solidarity against the ivory trade. May this positive momentum continue and trigger more awareness, policy change, greater anti-corruption measures and on-the-ground enforcement to stamp out this trade once and for all. May we also remember the 7000 elephants that these tusks came from and the 20-33 thousand elephants that are killed every year. Innocent and beautiful. Rest in peace.

Tusks on fire

In under an hour, the largest ivory burn in history will take place. In this symbolic event, 105 tonnes of elephant ivory and 1.5 tonnes of rhino horn will go up in flames in 11 large pyres in Nairobi National Park. World leaders, politicians, conservationists, celebrities and the media are present, and the world watches on as a landmark event in the battle to stop the ivory trade begins. The burn sends a clear message: the ivory has no economic value, and the elephant is worth more alive. It’s time to stop the trade once and for all.

The unspoken topic: Corruption

A quick reminder of the facts: Tanzania lost 60% of their elephants in the last 5 years; Central Africa, 64% in 10 years. Although market prices for ivory have halved, the demand for ivory, driven by the rising middle class in Asia, continues unabated. How is the ivory getting there? Mostly through the insanely busy port of Mombasa- one of the key mouths of trade for the continent. Neighbouring land-locked countries are channelling the tusks there by road, unfortunately with relative ease, and successfully loaded into cargo holds. From 2009-14, 170 tonnes of ivory were seized by international authorities. That’s 230,000 elephants.

Although Kenya has made the trade illegal, the ivory is still getting through. Why? A much-avoided issue, and obviously so, in bilateral and multilateral dialogue is this: corruption.

It’s there, it exists and it takes decades for it to trickle out of a government’s way of operating. While the policy is in place, weak governance creates a whole lot of gaps in implementation- gaps that act like wide open doors for the mass movement of tusks and surely keeps the trade alive.

If we wish to halt the trade, we need to halt corruption. Many countries have shown positive results in the pursuit. Sadly, it takes a long time, usually a few changes of office. Perhaps this won’t happen fast enough before the elephants vanish altogether.