African countries have been subjected to International treaties which on careful scrutiny; do not serve interests of Africa’s development aspirations.
Policies like ban on ivory markets and burning ivory are either ill-advised or deliberately crafted to serve foreign Interests; probably owing to the fact that the enforcing treaties were drafted in foreign capitals some as old as pre- independence and African nations are simply called upon to comply.
In as much as we all agree that conservation of endangered flora and fauna is highly essential and should be taken seriously, the burning of ivory and ban on markets has not stopped elephant poaching for the last quarter of a century, and therefore, it neither serves conservation purposes nor make any economic sense for African countries that have elephants.
Let’s take an example of Kenya where in April this year, 105 tons of poached ivory, was burnt with a value estimated at more than 15 million dollars, said to be the largest single ivory burn globally. The event was witnessed by the presidents of Gabon and Uganda, UN officials, conservationists and other prominent personalities. This was the fourth time since 1989 that Kenya was destroying porched ivory, following a ban in the same year of trade in ivory. The trade ban was imposed by The Convention on International Trade in Endangered species of wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), also referred to as the Washington convention.
Despite the burning and ban of ivory trade, statistics show an increase in the number of elephants being killed in Kenya. In 1989, Kenya burnt 12 tons, in 2011(4.9tons) in 2015(15tons) tons while this year, 2016 (105tons). On the continental level, figures by the born free Foundation an international wild life charity estimate that about 30,000 to 50,000 elephants were killed in Africa each year from 2008 to 2013. Africa and Asia are the only continents in the world inhabited by elephants. In 2014, the World Wildlife Fund report put the total population of African elephants at around 700,000 down from 1.3million in 1979. The burning question then should be, why has the burning and the ban on ivory trade, then not been able to stop poaching and the increasing killing of elephants?
Those who support ivory burning say that it is intended to send a strong signal that the ivory is worthless unless on a live elephant, a statement that does not represent the reality.
The trade in ivory has been going on for centuries, and the killing of elephants for their ivory in Africa is as old as the barbaric times of slave trade, sanctioned by the people in Western capitals who now advise Africans to burn the ivory as a deterrent to poaching, while ivory cannot be equated to trade in drugs like cocaine which have to be destroyed when seized. From unknown times when man discovered that ivory has ornamental value, such value cannot be denied whether the ivory is there or not and therefore burning the ivory cannot take away the intrinsic value man has attached to it.
In practical terms, it makes no economic sense for Africa to burn the ivory and then turn to Western governments and NGOs and ask for elephants conservation support money. In Africa where the majority population depend on subsistence farming, food theft from gardens takes place and when thieves are caught stealing bananas and you set the bananas on fire, then you are likely also to die of hunger. This is the kind of advice we get from Western friends whose countries have zero elephants but comprise of markets for the illegal ivory trade and are the ones “advising” us how to deal with our precious animal resources!
The burning of ivory found in market countries that import illegal ivory, makes sense but African countries where elephants are found, should be allowed regulated legal trade, and the money received be used to support meaningful elephant conservation programs that would eradicate the poaching problem.
Burning ivory seems to focus on the consequences rather than the root causes of elephant poaching. In a message published in the Africa geographic Magazine issue no. 06 of 08 August 2014, with the title, ‘The Burning question’ which discusses the debate in America on whether the burning of ivory stops poaching, Dr. Dan Stiles, a conservationist who has for a long time studies global ivory markets, and has worked in Africa and Asia, cautions that the total ban on commercial sales of ivory (zero tolerance) does not focus on poachers and traffickers, but only a message sent to international NGOs that support conservation and Western governments which contribute money to the NGOs. On the question of burning the ivory as a deterrent to poaching, Dr. Stiles, rightly observes that, “it is altruistic, but impractical, and economically flawed.
To turn off supply while demand remains high is a bit like running your house heating and air-conditioning at the same time. It just consumes more energy, and achieves no temperature change.” The conservationist terms the total ban an extremely bad policy that allows more illegal ivory trade, when demand remains high.
The demand of ivory is extremely high in China and Thailand and progressive conservations urge for effective system of regulation to supply the markets with legal sells of ivory whose industries otherwise are fed on illegally poached ivory. It is also reported that in 2011 when Kenya burnt stokes of ivory, the price of ivory in China escalated, while studies conducted by Save the Elephants reveal that four years before 2014, the price of ivory in China tripled, and the effect was increased poaching on African elephants. The study Dr. Stiles concludes that the message sent to ivory speculators by burning ivory is, “buy as much ivory as you can afford now, it is getting scarcer.”
The question one can ask is why has the ban on ivory trade and the burning of poached ivory failed to stop the killing of elephants for the last 25 years? The biggest problem is that African countries have failed to address the root causes of poaching, especially the most important issue of dealing with human-wild life conflict, but resort to a flawed approach of dealing with the effects. First of all, Elephants kill people and encroach on farms and destroy food crops, leaving people starving who in turn direct their anger to hunting and killing the elephants as a form of revenge and punishment. It is estimated that 500 people are killed annually by elephants in Africa and Asia.
Secondly, Local communities living along with the animals have not been adequately educated to be partners in conservation, and have not been considered for meaningful financial benefit from revenues generated by tourism as an incentive. They continue to live in poverty when animals around them can make good money for them. Thirdly, corruption and low pay of game rangers is another factor that promotes poaching where the rangers permit poachers to kill the animals for a fee or even kill the animals themselves. Fourthly, new technologies and innovations to monitor and deter both poachers and elephants from causing mayhem have not been effectively employed.
It is good news to hear that Tanzania will soon use Super Bat DA 50, drones in Tarangire national park in an anti-poaching initiative. Communities in Uganda’s Murchison falls conservation area are said to have devised effective “home grown solutions” like planting chilli, digging trenches and a home made gun to keep the elephants from raiding their farms. Effective Community based conservation that educates and empowers communities economically, use of technology and innovations, improving the welfare of game rangers, eradicating corruption supported by government’s good will are some of the key factors in stamping out poaching.
Western NGOs involved in supporting conservation, will make big fundraising drives from their governments and philanthropists, but they will not help African countries to find a lasting solution to protect the continent’s fauna and flora, and therefore, African countries have to wake up and take charge of preserving and making economic benefit of the continent’s natural resources. If it were an insurance deal, I would say that the West has no “insurable interest” to protect Africa’s natural resources.
To believe that the formula of burning and banning ivory markets proposed by the West will help African countries overcome the killing of elephants, is like believing that Western aid will end poverty in Africa. Those who believe so will have to wait until Jesus returns. African wild life and elephants in particular, were rendered endangered species mainly by Western greed for African resources and hunting for pleasure.
Explorer Dr. David Livingstone estimated that 44,000 African elephants were killed for the English market alone in 1894. During the 19th century 250,000 pounds of ivory are estimated to have been taken out of Africa every year for the Europe and American markets. Take an example of the former American president Theodore Roosevelt who visited Africa in 1909, immediately after leaving the white house, went on a pleasure hunting spree with his son, and in one year hunt, they are reported to have killed 512 animals, which included; 11 elephants, 17lions and 20 Rhinos. After all this, then African countries believe that burning of ivory is the solution to stop illegal killing of elephants?
The slogan of, “kill the ivory market once and for all” does not favour Africa’s development agenda and Africa should not be duped to burn her own granary when it aspires to become a self-reliant continent. Western powers have always created “good sounding polices” that do not work for Africa’s interests after they had their share of looting the resources. if African countries get organized it is possible to eliminate poaching, and legalize ivory trade, short of which, Western interests will keep justifying policies that will keep Africa begging when Africans have willingly accepted to make their resources valueless!!
For Africa to take charge of her resources, it should not be business as usual, and the status quo of Western binding old treaties like CITES should be revised or put in place new treaties all together, to have more ownership. For example, Africa and Asia are the only continents in the world with elephant’s habitat and should therefore, take the lead and have a more say on policy and decisions on matters to do with elephant conservation and ivory trade. Not long ago, some African countries asked for change of the 1929 Nile water agreement, because it was not serving their interests, and this would be in the same spirit.
The CITES treaty (Washington treaty), was drafted by Western countries, US and Europe at the lead, shifting goal posts after millions of elephants and other animals of value were killed in Africa and ivory illegally taken to their countries, and latter advising African countries to ban ivory trade and also destroy Africa’s precious ivory that would otherwise fetch large sums of legal revenue. The deliberate blindness of the CITES treaty again is that it does not address a crucial subject of returning the ivory, objects of Victorian ornaments and other wildlife specimens worth billions of dollars looted from Africa and being kept in US and Europe.
Africa would be a first world overnight if all the looted resources were returned and injected into the economy. Furthermore, CITES does not outlaw trophy hunting which continues to deplete Africa’s endangered animal species carried out by rich Western tourists like the American dentist hunter who recently lured out of Hwange national park in Zimbabwe Cecil the lion and killed it.
In 2012, sons of Donald Trump the current American presidential candidate, Junior and Eric, were filmed in Zimbabwe with many dead animals they had killed including elephants and leopards. “I’m a hunter, for that I make no apologies,” Donald Trump Jr. said on Twitter. “I can assure you it was not wasteful the villagers were so happy for the meat which they don’t often get to eat,” he later added. Is this the right way for Africa to conserve her endangered animal species? I believe countries like Zimbabwe would honour an African treaty to ban trophy hunting unless it was for purposes of population check on the animals.
I strongly agree with Initiatives like the Giants Club and appreciate the support by philanthropists like Evgeny Lebedev, while at the same time I believe that if conservation efforts focused more on improving policies on conservation approaches, it is possible to eliminate poaching and get back to regulated trade by harvesting ivory through culling and elephants that die of disease or old age. The ceased ivory too should not be burnt but sold while poachers face tough penalties.
Africa needs to take control, proper care and utilization of natural resources including the precious ivory.
Gerald Mbanda is a member of Pan African movement.