The elephants in the room in Kasane

If we don’t deal with demand for ivory in China, the battle for elephants in Africa will be lost.I left the African Elephant Summit in Kasane on Monday with mixed feelings as to whether we are actually making progress towards addressing the current elephant crisis.

In reviewing the progress made since the Gaberone Summit in 2013, it was clear from both African elephant range States, as well as the donor community, that a great deal of progress has indeed been made to address the 14 urgent measures agreed in Gaberone.

RELATED: Does Kasane hold the key to unlocking action on the ground for elephants?

Many countries, including Angola, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, have taken significant action since Gaberone to address policy and legislative reforms, promote inter-agency enforcement cooperation, stamp out corruption, increase capacity for anti-poaching and anti-trafficking, improve ivory stockpile management, and strengthen intelligence-led enforcement operations. 

There were also very positive reports from the US, UK, Germany, and the Netherlands, highlighting their ongoing commitments to helping African elephant range States implement the 14 urgent measures, a true reflection of the global commitment to addressing the crisis.

But, there were a few elephants in the room in Kasane. 

Firstly, what stood out for me the most was the menial attention given to the issue of addressing the demand for ivory, especially in China, the world’s largest ivory consumer nation. 

China was in the room and reported back on the action they have taken to enhance domestic enforcement efforts, but not much was said about necessary action to address demand. 

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, if we don’t deal with demand in China, the battle for elephants in Africa will be lost. 

It is just a matter of time.

Secondly, of the eight countries identified by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) as being the most problematic when it comes to the illegal ivory trade, only four were present in Kasane, and three of those were source countries, namely Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. 

The important transit countries, namely Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as the second most problematic consumer nation, Thailand, were noticeably absent.

If we really want to ensure that the urgent measures agreed to in Gaberone are implemented and that we actually see results on the ground, these countries, who were invited to attend, should be in the room. It speaks to a lack of commitment on the part of these countries to being party to addressing the crisis.

Lastly, it was not clear at all as to where all these commitments and declarations ultimately come together in the form of action for elephants. 

CITES provides range-state endorsed mechanisms through the African Elephant Action Plan and associated African Elephant Fund, specific to many of the issues that are to be addressed through the various commitments and declarations being discussed here in Kasane. 

I certainly hope that there will be a common meeting point for the distribution of resources against priority actions that need to take place to address the elephant crisis. 

Perhaps the African Elephant Action Plan and associated Fund should serve as that umbrella mechanism and should be strengthened through all of these important global efforts.

As the follow-up meeting to the London International Wildlife Trade Summit (IWT) commences in Kasane today, I certainly hope that these high-level government deliberations will get rid of the elephants in the room and provide for an open, honest and transparent framework to ensure that we move closer to real action on the ground for elephants.


Learn more about IFAW efforts to protect elephants on our campaign page.

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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