The rate of elephant poaching in Africa is soaring as elephants are brutally slaughtered to feed a rising demand for ivory products, fueled largely by the growing disposable income of China’s expanding middle class and its appetite for ‘status’ goods.
In this context, it feels like an understatement to brand as ‘ludicrous’ Tanzania’s bid to reduce international protection for its elephant populations and to auction off 101 tonnes of stockpiled ivory.
But ludicrous it certainly is, particularly as it comes at a time when the ivory trading system employed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is itself increasingly being called into question as a major driver of poaching and the illegal international trade in ivory.
If the CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP16) in Bangkok next March agrees to downlist Tanzania’s elephant population from Appendix 1 to the lesser protection of Appendix 2, the country intends to seek trade in registered raw ivory (whole tusks and pieces), trade in raw hides including feet, ears and tails, trade in live animals and, of course, the ivory sale.
The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) believes dumping more than 100 tonnes of ivory onto the market will only serve to further confuse consumers as to the legal status of ivory, stimulating fresh demand, spurring the black market and leading to even more poaching.
Tanzania has been down this road before; it first applied to CITES for a sale in 2007, although withdrew the proposal following information provided by EIA in private briefings.
It next applied in March 2010 to downlist its elephant population and sell 90 tonnes of stockpiled ivory, claiming its elephant population was “secure”. EIA’s undercover investigations established a very different reality, finding a flourishing trade in illegal ivory at both domestic and international levels, exacerbated by poor enforcement and facilitated by official corruption. Our report “Open Season” was a key factor in the proposal’s defeat.
Only this month, the Tanzanian Government admitted to losing 30 elephants a day to poachers – and yet following October 20’s record seizure in Hong Kong of 3.81 tonnes of ivory, hidden in shipments from Tanzania and Kenya, wildlife officer Paul Sarakikya of Tanzania’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism audaciously claimed: “Tanzania has succeeded in curbing elephant and other wildlife poaching to a great extent. It may be occurring in isolated cases, but such large consignment of ivories could not have been collected from the country.”
But CITES CoP16 isn’t just about Tanzania, it’s about the credibility of CITES as an organisation which expects the international community to endorse it as a responsible guardian of endangered species.
EIA’s position from the start has been that a CITES-sanctioned ivory trade cannot work, and time has borne us out – the respite offered by the ’89 ban, allowing populations to recover from the carnage which had previously been killing one elephant every 10 minutes, only ended when CITES first began allowing new trade.
We fervently believe that parties to CITES need to regain control of the destructive world ivory markets and end the damage done to undermine the ivory trade ban by unequivocally vetoing all proposals for ivory sales, starting with Tanzania’s in March.