Spotlight Africa: The Copper Bullets take on the Elephants in a grand finale!

As the news broke of the Chipolopolo Boys’ (aka the Copper Bullets from Zambia) victory over Ghana in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations (CAF) semi final, to take on the Ivory Coast (aka the Elephants) in Sunday’s massive final showdown, I couldn’t help but be reminded, in the striking linguistic analogy, of our fight to protect elephants! 

You see, elephants are, once again, in the firing line and while, as a Southern African Development Community (SADC) local I will be rooting for a Zambian victory on Sunday, I do hope, metaphorically that is, that the copper bullets don’t get the better of the elephants in Africa in the near future….

Ever since the ivory trade ban was partially lifted back in 1997 when the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) agreed to Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe selling off ivory stockpiles to Japan, the International Fund for Animal Welfare warned policy and decision makers that there would be a resultant increase in poaching and illicit trade.  While bureaucrats argued about causality, i.e. the link between putting ivory back into the marketplace through legal stockpile sales, and poaching and illegal trade, IFAW continued to express grave concerns about what was actually happening to elephants on the ground. 

Enter further stockpile sales in 2008, a massive 120 tonnes endorsed for sale from Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe to buyers in Japan and the new player on the block, China.  At this stage IFAW was hoarse in trying to get the world to recognise that the only good thing for elephants was a complete ban on ivory trade.  What was it going to take?

Well, it seems like it oftentimes takes the killing of a lot of animals before folks (and here I refer mainly to policy and decision makers) start waking up.  This brings into question just what the tolerance threshold should be for poaching and illegal trade?  Well, for IFAW it is zero tolerance – even one elephant killed for its ivory is one too many!  How can any level of killing be tolerated given the spurious need for the use of ivory in this day and age.

In late-December last year, TRAFFIC joined the call to action in reporting on Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) data for the year (2011).  They reflected that in 23 years of collecting ivory seizure data, 2011 was the worst ever year for large ivory seizures and that it was a truly horrible year for elephants. I would argue that, ever since the lifting of the ivory trade ban back in 1997, every year has been a horrible year for certain elephants. 

I was alarmed to read reports from the Zimbabwe Government recently suggesting that the ivory trade ban should be lifted…  Harare, we have a problem – the ivory trade ban was lifted back in 1997 when you were given the green light to sell off stockpiled ivory to Japan in a one-off sale – there is no complete ivory trade ban, hence the problem today!

While I hope that the game on Sunday will be a clean one with no cards for foul play, I think it is time that the world wakes up and issues a red card to the ivory trade – CITES, as the referee in this game, can and must act in issuing the red, a reinstatement of the ivory trade ban.  This is what it is going to take to stop the killing.

-- JB

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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
James Isiche, Regional Director, East Africa
Regional Director, East Africa
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy