Gabon, turning the heat on the ivory trade
On Wednesday, Gabon’s President, Ali Bongo, sent a clear message to ivory traders – you won’t get your hands on our ivory! He set fire to a pyre consisting of over 1000 confiscated raw elephant tusks, and 17,000 carvings, bracelets and rings.
Not only is this an extremely courageous act on the part of the Gabonese Government, a country which has previously experienced the theft of Government ivory stocks, but it is also a signal to the rest of the world that there should be zero tolerance for the killing of elephants and the laundering of ivory.
The ivory burn was a first for a Central African country. In 1989, Kenya set the precedent for putting ivory beyond use when they burned their ivory stock in protest of the mass elephant slaughter of the 1980’s. The message then was crisp and clear – the world must know that the killing has to stop! Given what’s happening right now, I certainly hope that this message reverberates again!
Today, as I write this entry, many elephant populations find themselves in an extremely precarious situation, especially those in certain parts of West and Central Africa. Earlier this year, in an eight week poaching spree in Cameroon, poachers killed at least 650 elephants. Poaching continues unabated in many other countries too – the DRC, Congo, Chad, Tanzania, Mozambique, to name but a few. And, last year was the worst year on record for large-scale ivory seizures. Not to sound like a doomsday prophet, but things don’t look good for elephants right now. And, to make matters worse, there is a lot we don’t know about just how dire the situation really is.
I really hope that other countries will soon follow Gabon’s lead. As long as markets for ivory exist, elephants will continue to be killed. This is unacceptable. Putting ivory beyond use sends a bold message to the world that poaching and illicit trade should not be tolerated. It also sends a message to consumers that they are abetting the killing of elephants through their, oftentimes ignorant, consumption behaviour. One really has to ask whether there is a need for the use of ivory, an unnecessary luxury, in this day and age.
We at the International Fund for Animal Welfare continue to fight the fight for elephants in both Africa and Asia. We’ll do what we can to protect elephants on the ground, inform consumers of just how devastating their actions are, and influence policy decisions to protect elephants from this unscrupulous slaughter. We thank President Ali Bongo for walking this path with us and challenge other African leaders to do the same.