Fishy Export Hides Bloody Secret

Poached elephant © Rukinga Wildlife Sanctuary / Wildlife Works Ltd

Enormous ivory haul reveals shocking levels of elephant poaching in Africa.

Leading conservationists were left stunned by news from Tanzania that 1,041 elephant tusks have been seized by authorities in an operation at the port of Zanzibar on Wednesday 24th August 2011.  The tusks had been hidden among sacks of dried fish, in a shipment reportedly destined for Malaysia. 

"Just imagine discovering the remains of at least 521 dead elephants in a single haul" said Will Travers, CEO of the Born Free Foundation. "This news has truly numbed us all to the core, and made us even more determined to redouble our efforts in the fight against elephant poaching and the illegal ivory trade.  Many experts believe the battle for elephants must not only be fought in the forests or on the savannahs of Africa, or even in the ivory markets of the Far East, but in the corridors of power at CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.  Africa’s elephants need action – and they need it now."

The elephant battles at CITES are truly something to behold.  Elephant and ivory trade discussions are possibly the most divisive and contentious issues discussed by the 175 countries that have signed the treaty.  Although a complete ban on trade in ivory was approved in 1989 (following a decade of bloodshed when 700,000 elephants were slaughtered), since then there have been numerous concerted efforts to re-open legal trade, and two legal ‘one-off sales’ of ivory approved by CITES.

  • In 1999, a one-off legal export of 58 tonnes of ivory from Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana to Japan took place.
  • In 2008, China joined Japan as an approved ‘ivory trading partner’ in a decision that the United Kingdom government justified at the time as an attempt to satisfy demand and thus reduce poaching.
  • In 2009, the second CITES-approved shipment of 108 tonnes of ivory to China and Japan took place, despite an international outcry that such legal trade would surely only stimulate demand, and therefore increase poaching.  The cries fell on deaf ears.
  • In 2010, Tanzania and Zambia both asked CITES for approval to sell their stockpiled ivory.  Thankfully, a group of 23 African elephant range States, known as the African Elephant Coalition, successfully prevented this from happening.  But rumours are rife that more ivory trade Proposals will soon raise their ugly heads, yet again.

The fall-out for elephants has been devastating. Poaching levels are rising (a recent report by the EU-funded Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants Programme (MIKE) reveals a deeply worrying upward trend in poaching across East, Southern and Central Africa); seizures of illegal ivory this year alone run into tens of thousands of kilos; and the price of illegal raw ivory in the Far East has risen exponentially.

China is now recognised by CITES as the single biggest consumer of illicit ivory, and with the growth in disposable income of Chinese citizens, many believe the demand will keep on rising.

“There are not enough elephants left on this planet to meet Asian demand for ivory,” Shelley Waterland, Born Free's wildlife trade expert, claimed. "Enforcement efforts are essential, but so is reducing demand.  A complete ban on any trade in ivory whatsoever must be the only way forward if we are to have any hope of saving elephants across their current range.  Many fragile populations will simply not survive for very much longer if this level of threat continues unabated.”

The Born Free Foundation is calling for the following steps to be taken as a matter of urgency:

  1. For China’s status as an approved ‘ivory trading partner’ to be withdrawn.
  2. For all countries to agree that future proposals to sell stockpiled ivory must be abandoned.
  3. For the international community to join the Netherlands, France and Germany in donating to the African Elephant Fund, a new initiative highlighted at the 61st meeting of the CITES Standing Committee in Geneva, Switzerland, last week and designed to help pay for priority elephant conservation actions identified as part of the African Elephant Action Plan (a blueprint for elephant conservation agreed by all 37 African elephant range States).
  4. For enforcement agencies such as Interpol and the Lusaka Agreement Task Force to further step up measures to infiltrate and destroy the organised criminal gangs which operate the poaching syndicates responsible for the current high level of illegal elephant poaching.


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