Illegal Ivory Trade Decreases Elephant Populations

If the illegal ivory trade is not stopped, the African Elephant may become extinct. Elephant poaching has been increasing since 2006 and has reached an all-time high in 2011, thanks to China’s large demand for ivory. From the years 1989-2012, the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) found 17,757 elephant product seizure reports, which is equivalent to 395,990 kg of ivory. This only covers products on record; many more elephants have been poached for their tusks.

Recently, northern Cameroon experienced a mass slaughter of elephants in Bouba N’Djida National Park. Approximately 450 dead elephants with their tusks cut off were discovered within the 220,000 hectares of land. The poachers hailed from Sudan and Chad, and had been killing the elephants from January to March of 2012.  They were heavily armed and extremely skilled.

The United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has taken note of these killings and stated that poaching is “of serious and increasing concern.” Their sixty-second meeting of the standing committee, held from July 23-27, discussed Elephant Conservation, Illegal Killing, and the Ivory Trade. They found that increased poaching was reported in 19 sites in 9 countries during the past 12 months. Those countries were Cameroon, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Gabon, Mozambique, the Republic of the Congo, the United Republic of Tanzania, and Zambia.

CITES breaks down the causes for poaching into three levels: local, national, and global. At the local level, poaching is more common in areas of poverty. People resort to poaching because it pays well, and they have few, if any, other ways to earn a living. At the country level, weak governments who cannot, or do not, enforce anti-poaching laws experience more poaching in their states. At the global level, the demand for ivory results in higher poaching rates.

Consumer demand for ivory is the number one cause of poaching. Poachers are drawn to this occupation by money, but without demand, there would be no money to be earned. Today, China is the world’s largest trader of illegal ivory. When CITES banned the sale of ivory in 1990, the Chinese government did nothing to enforce it. A loophole allowed traders to register “forgotten” goods, which in reality had been purchased during the ban. The government even had its own share of ivory stocks. The report by the Environmental Investigation Agency provides more information on the ivory trade in China.

Other countries involved in the illegal ivory trade are located throughout Asia and Africa. The Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, and Thailand are three of the biggest offenders, according to ETIS. These countries and others get away with illegal practices due to a lack of law enforcement and unregulated markets.

Although the ban on ivory has failed to minimize the ivory trade in Asia and Africa, it has made trade in the U.S. and Europe almost nonexistent. In the United States, it is still legal to trade ivory that was purchased before the ban (though it is difficult to distinguish when a particular ivory piece was purchased). Americans don’t desire ivory as much as the Chinese do, though, so the U.S. doesn’t have an illegal trading problem.

Even though Africa has played a regrettable role in the ivory trade, some African countries are making efforts to combat this issue. After reflecting on the massacre at Bouba N’Djida National Park, the Cameroon government has decided to acquire 2500 new game rangers over the course of 5 years, as well as establish a new national park authority. These efforts aim to deter and catch future poachers.

Gabon, a neighboring country of Cameroon, became the first central African country to publicly destroy its ivory. On June 27, 2012, Gabon’s government burned their supply of ivory in order to fight the illegal wildlife trade. The stockpile amounted to more than 1200 tusks and weighed about 4825 kg.

In June 2012, the Central African Forest Commission signed an agreement that will strengthen law enforcement against poaching. It calls for the police, customs, and judiciary to work together in order to catch poachers. More action will now be taken to find and punish these criminals.

You can also make a difference in stopping the illegal ivory trade. Don’t buy ivory products and encourage others to do the same. Also, visit the World Wildlife Fund website to learn about their campaign and various ways to take action against the illegal wildlife trade.

Elephant poaching has been on the rise in recent years. With efforts on the individual, country, and global level, elephant poaching and the illegal ivory trade may be put to an end once and for all. 

Photo Credit: fws.gov/international/wildlife-without-borders/donations.html 

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