African Elephants have been disappearing at a frightening rate from Africa’s savannahs and forests, causing drastic consequences to the ecosystems. Where are they going, you might ask?
Poaching for valuable ivory tusks has dramatically increased in recent years, along with the price of ivory. Two of the largest seizures of illegal ivory from Japan and China in 2006 and 2008 showed that the value could reach an astonishing $3570 to $6500 per kg. One elephant produces roughly 7.4 kg of ivory. The horrific levels of poaching are affecting elephant populations’ growth and causing extinctions.
Why does something so detrimental continue? Organised crime supplies demand for ivory. Specifically, civil wars in Mozambique and the Congo use the sale of ivory to procure arms. Civil warfare makes automatic weapons more available throughout Africa. Oftentimes poachers were better equipped than the men put in charge of protecting the wildlife. Poachers also began to use immobilising drugs and helicopters to extract ivory from the elephants. These methods, along with the sales of large quantities of ivory, suggest a move to organised crime. The money ivory brings in allows this organised crime to continue. It is suspected that guards of protected areas, policemen, and politicians have participated in ivory trafficking and that corruption can be found all throughout the system. Bribery is the most common form of corruption because most officials are not paid very much.
So where does that leave us?
Struan of the University of Edinburgh’s Conservation Science class suggests a NO tolerance policy. Most people are not aware that ivory is sourced illegally. Decreasing demand is essential to the recovery of African elephants. Struan argues non-governmental organisations should condemn ivory, markets should be closed and laws should be revised to make all ivory illegal.
Many governments, such as Tanzania and Zambia, have been stockpiling ivory from elephants’ deaths, herd culling, and seizure of illegal stocks in preparation for future trading. This trade should be banned! The governments should be required to destroy any stockpiled ivory.
We all need to work together to stop the expansion of ivory trade. Investment in export hotspots will hopefully allow less ivory to reach the market. Struan suggests that a universal reporting method would be a good place to start. When a nation seizes a load, the ivory should be weighed and its DNA should be analysed and geographically mapped, to identify the source prior to the ivory being destroyed.
Wildlife guards are a good way to thwart ivory trade at its source and prevent the deaths of more elephants. Foreign investment should be focused on providing guards with enough resources to protect the elephants from poachers. Money should also be invested in new technologies such as handheld imaging devices, to give teams advanced notice when poachers are approaching. Aid needs to be turned to the training, equipping, and staffing of wildlife protection agencies.
Struan’s opinion piece stresses that without serious action, African elephants will become extinct in the near future. A global zero-tolerance policy on all forms of ivory trade must be implemented.
By Brynn Littlehale