World Elephant Day 2014 – Time for Celebration and Concern
It is early August 2014, and so far this year not a single week has passed without law enforcers seizing a consignment of ivory “and those are the ones that are being reported,” says the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
“Every seizure of ivory represents the slaughter of elephants wherever they live, but mostly in Africa, in countries where poverty and political insecurity make it possible for poachers and trafficking cartels to operate unhindered,” says Jason Bell, Director of the IFAW Elephant Programme.
“As animal lovers around the world get ready to celebrate World Elephant Day it’s worth reflecting that, since the beginning of January, not a single week has passed without law enforcers confiscating shipments of ivory both large and small. At least 35,000 elephants a year die the cruelest of deaths to supply the trade.
“In seven months we’ve seen nearly 10 tonnes of ivory seized in large scale consignments – those over 500 kilograms which Interpol, the global security agency, say are the indicators of organized crime being behind illicit ivory trade,” said Bell. “This figure does not include the numerous other seizures smaller than 500 kgs.”
In January Togo intercepted four tonnes of ivory, its biggest bust ever – Togo is believed to have fewer than 200 elephants remaining in the wild, but is emerging as an important trafficking exit port from Africa. Cambodia made its biggest ivory seizure ever in May when authorities seized three tonnes of ivory. The ivory was contained in shipping containers travelling from Malaysia and Cambodia is considered a major trafficking route for ivory.
Other substantial seizures included a 2.1 tonne seizure in Mombasa, Kenya in early June; and 790 kgs of ivory in Hong Kong, found hidden in luggage on board a flight to Cambodia, and which had originated in Angola.
Most illegal ivory is destined for Asia, in particular China, where it has soared in value as an investment vehicle and is coveted as “white gold”. Availability of legal ivory in China purchased form the stockpile sale in southern Africa in 2008 has, in turn, boosted demand encouraging illegal ivory trade and the poaching of elephants to meet market needs.
IFAW said that while it applauded any confiscation of illegal ivory, it was crucial that governments looked beyond seizures as the answer to disrupting trafficking.
“The only way countries are going to stop poaching of elephants and illegal trade is by cooperating with agencies such as Interpol, and the law enforcement bodies of other governments to map and profile those behind this transnational criminal activity and dedicate the resources needed to reduce the capacity of those who seek profit from ivory trafficking.
“There is a great need to focus on strategies which seek to deter and halt the killing of these magnificent creatures,” he said.
The future for elephants may appear bleak, but Bell said there is much that is positive with regards to worldwide action to save elephants.
“There is greater awareness and commitment from governments, law enforcers and civil society than ever to co-operate to bring an end to the slaughter of elephants.
“So far this year four countries – China, France, Chad and Belgium – have destroyed their ivory stockpiles; we’ve seen organisations like the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) single out a further 11 countries, bringing to 19 the countries CITES demands institute national action plans to protect elephants and prevent illegal ivory trade; organisations like IFAW are partnering with influential institutions like the Clinton Global Initiative to work with African leaders to ‘stop the killing, stop the trafficking and stop the demand’ to save elephants,” said Bell.
“On the ground IFAW also trains law enforcement officers in wildlife trafficking prevention in several countries throughout Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Oceania, and the Caribbean and also works with Interpol’s Environmental Crime Programme,” he said.