15 Tons of Ivory Burned! Why?
I have resisted being dragged into the many side-discussions that pop up from time-to-time regarding the commercial trade in ivory bagpipes. Simply stated, there is still too much dust in the air to get an absolutely clear view of what our world will look like down the road. This morning I awoke to the news below. What I have subsequently written here has nothing to do with ivory bagpipes. It has everything to do with the protection of elephants in the wild.
By: Tom Odula Associated Press, Published on Tue Mar 03 2015
NAIROBI— Kenya’s president set fire to 15 tons of elephant tusks during World Wildlife Day Tuesday (March 3, 2015) to discourage poaching and trade in ivory.
Twenty-five years since ivory trade was banned, new demand from emerging markets threatens Africa’s elephants and rhinos, President Uhuru Kenyatta said at the event. African countries are concerned about the scale and rate of the new threat to endangered wildlife species, he said. “Many of these tusks belonged to elephants which were wantonly slaughtered by criminals. We want future generations of Kenyans, Africans and the entire world to experience the majesty and beauty of these magnificent beasts,” Kenyatta said before setting fire to a three-metre-high pile of huge elephant tusks doused with gas.
“Poachers and their enablers will not have the last word.” Higher demand for ivory is fuelling elephant killings by poachers across Africa. Save The Elephants said last year that 100,000 elephants were killed in Africa between 2010 and 2012. On Thursday, China imposed a one-year ban on ivory imports amid criticism that its citizens’ huge appetite for ivory threatens the existence of Africa’s elephants.
The years 2011, 2012 and 2013 witnessed the highest levels of poaching since a poaching crisis in the 1980s, Kenya’s Wildlife Service has said.
Poaching declined last year with 164 elephants and 35 rhinos killed, down from 302 elephants and 59 rhinos killed in 2013. Officials attributed the decline partially to stiffer penalties adopted last year for those involved in the illegal wildlife business.
The best that can be said of the present regulations regarding ownership, transportation, and the sale of ivory is that there is significant misunderstanding and confusion. New (now overdue) laws are pending that promise greater restriction and more red-tape.
I think we all have one question for President Kenyatta and other leaders around the world. If the 25 year ban on ivory hasn’t protected animals from slaughter, how will these new regulations succeed where past regulations have failed? Governments are destroying tons of ivory that has already been removed from commercial trade (legal or illegal). It would seem that the removal of ivory from trade over the past 25 years has only served to increase pressure on the species and fuel incentive to poach animals. It would seem that our conservation efforts are terribly misguided and out-of-step with the reality of the situation.
Destroying tons of ivory is purely ceremonial however I am unclear of the message. Are officials trying to convince people that ivory has no value? The laws of supply and demand would argue a completely different conclusion. Coupled with the present inability to protect the present elephant population, I am of the opinion that they have surely sealed the fate of these magnificent beasts. In reality, they are as dangerous to these animals as those who would poach and are otherwise engaged in the illegal trade of ivory.
If my voice could be heard, I would propose a three-pronged solution to the problem.
1. I advocate government management of this precious commodity. The market will set the price and licensed agencies should facilitate the sale of ivory. Monies would flow back to governments to further fund the protection of these animals.
2. I would allow owners of “legal ivory” to hold and to trade, however I would require all ivory to be registered with government agencies. Ivory held outside of these requirements would be subject to confiscation. Again, penalties should be levied and the sale of confiscated ivory would be directed to protect endangered species.
3. I would make the penalty for poaching or engaging in any form of illegal trade in ivory (or in any endangered species) very stiff. I believe that the publication of very severe penalties would do more to raise awareness and to ultimately protect the species than the destruction of tons of ivory. Governments around the world should have the right to seize any and all property of those found to be involved in the illegal trade of endangered species and to impose other consequences.
So what can we do?
I think we can also share this out among our friends, colleagues, representatives, and others. We can mobilize the general population to hear our concerns and to consider our solutions. Remember, this isn’t about us. It’s about protecting endangered animals in the wild.
Photo credit: KHALIL SENOSI / AP