Hard to image that presently fewer than half a million elephants are left in Africa. This is the reality World Elephant Day, held annually on 12 August, aims to highlight.
In Cape Town on Friday afternoon, a small group of individuals joined the Conservation action trust to watch flames engulfed a pile of tusks fashioned by local wire-workers.
While the small gathering might seem insignificant it does highlight the massive need for South Africans to be made more aware of the massive scale of destruction of these gentle giants through poaching.
‘We cannot stand idly by and watch these magnificent animals be consigned to oblivion,’ said Francis Garrard of the Conservation Action Trust, which organized the Blaauberg event.
This mock burn formed part of a worldwide call for all ivory stockpiles to be destroyed and follows the destruction of ivory stockpiles by 25 nations.
This year, World Elephant Day is a lead-up to the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (CoP17) taking place in Johannesburg later this month. The debate over what to do with stockpiled ivory is already creating a sharp divide between those who favour the destruction of the stockpiles and others who believe they represent valuable financial assets.
The South African government refuses to destroy its stockpile, unlike the 25 other countries that have publicaly destroyed tonnes of ivory to highlight that it should not be traded, believing the sale of its stockpile would contribute valuable funds to the conservation of the species. But this train of thought is said to be a Catch22 as a 2008 sale of ivory is believed to have fuelled the market to such an extent that it believes it stimulates the illegal production of ivory goods.
In the first ever World Wildlife Report published by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in June 2016 the organization says: “It appears a large share of the illegally acquired wildlife is ultimately sold in a legal market. By introducing illegal products into licit markets, traffickers have access to a much broader pool of potential buyers.”
Furthermore, The National Bureau of Economic Research published a paper in June 2016 entitled: “Does Legalization Reduce Black Market Activity? Evidence from a Global Ivory Experiment and Elephant Poaching Data.”
The conclusions of the research are clear.
“We find that a singular legal ivory sale corresponds with an abrupt, significant, permanent, robust, and geographically widespread increase in the production of illegal ivory through elephant poaching, with a corresponding 2009 increase in seizure of raw ivory contraband leaving African countries. The sudden 2008 increase in poaching does not correspond with any abrupt and systemic change in China’s or Japan’s affluence of influence in elephant range states, as measured by numerous covariates.”
As a result, the move by Zimbabwe and Namibia, South Africa in having submitted proposals to CoP17 that would clear the way to re-opening the international trade in ivory and allow them to apply for permission to legally sell ivory from their stockpiles in 2017 is being heavily criticised.
Citing concerns over the ‘negative consequences’ of banning trade, South Africa’s CITES representative, Thea Carroll, claimed earlier this year that ‘destroying ivory will increase its scarcity and thus drive up prices, which, in turn, will encourage more poaching and illegal trade.’
In stark contrast, the African Elephant Coalition, a group of 29 Central, West and East African nations has submitted five proposals to CoP17 which, if accepted, would close all domestic ivory markets, prohibit the export of live elephants, list all African elephant populations in CITES Appendix I and end discussions on re-establishing a legal international trade in ivory. It also endorsed the destruction of existing stockpiles.
Since the first ever public destruction of stockpiled ivory took place in Kenya in 1989, 29 such events have been conducted in Europe, Asia, North America and Africa. In April, Kenya burned over 100 tonnes of ivory in the largest single destruction event yet.
According to Kenyan conservationist Paula Kahumbu, burning ivory ‘is a highly visible political statement of intent. As such, it can make an important contribution towards raising awareness of the issues, stigmatising the purchase of ivory and galvanising global support for a total trade ban.’
Ultimately, the spectacle of destroying ivory in public sends a clear message to would-be consumers that buying ivory is morally unacceptable and contributes directly to the slaughter of African elephants, over 100,000 of which were killed by poachers between 2010 and 2012 alone.
Conservation Action Trust has shared the following World Elephant Day 2016 Facts:
– Inaugurated in 2012 to bring plight of elephants to the world’s attention.
– Since 2010 over 100 000 elephants have been killed for their tusks.
– African elephant population suspected to be as low as 400 000, down from 1,3million in 1900’s.
– SA elephant population is growing slowly, currently 26 000
– Populations elsewhere declining dramatically, worst is Tanzania, down from 130 000 to 14 000.
– International ivory trade has been banned since 1989.
– Domestic trade still legal within many countries
– SA, Zimbabwe, Namibia & Botswana held a one off sale in 2008-106 tons.
– 2008 sale to China and Japan
– 2008 sale created cover for rampant illegal trade
– 2008 sale spurred massive increase in poaching
– SA, Namibia & Zimbabwe proposals to COP17 risks repeating the 2008 mistake.
– 25 countries have destroyed ivory stockpiles
– Kenya destroyed 104 tons in 2016
– SA will not destroy stockpile
– will not disclose size of stockpile
– PAIA request pending
– SA elephant trophy hunting quota 150 elephants pa
– SA would like to legalise trade in ivory