IVORY BURN OR SELL, THE CONTROVERSY RAGES ON
The white gold as ivory is also known, is living up to its billing as the price of the contraband commodity has shot through the proverbial roof in recent years, and keeps climbing. This development has fueled the greed of potential sellers of ivory just as the economic boom in China and other tiger economies has fueled the greed for blood ivory to be turned into intricate carvings, ornaments and even such mundane items like seals, chops sticks and serviette rings. Subsequently have applications for one off sales come to CITES, at times granted and at times refused, inevitably drawing emotional reactions by the conservation fraternity. One off sales of so called legal ivory only fuels poaching claims a regular conservation source from Tanzania, a claim supported by poaching trends whenever such authorization had been granted in the past, but gone out of control now as the supply of legal ivory, held by governments has literally dried up.
Hundreds of tons of such ivory are kept in strong-rooms from Eastern Africa to Southern Africa and as more and more accumulates, pressure is growing on CITES to permit regulated sales. Legal ivory consists of tusks found in the wild from elephant which died of old age or disease but this has been supplemented by ivory confiscated from poachers or seized while in transit or at ports and airports and here lies the contentious issue. Conservationists do not want such ivory to end up being sold, as it would ultimately reward those wishing to buy the white gold with their demand causing the poaching in the first place. A sale, it has been said, would give those unscrupulous buyers the wanted result, either by illegal shipment of blood ivory getting through all the controls or else when eventually legally buying it from governments which obtain clearance from CITES.
The last CITES General Assembly in Doha in March last year turned down requests by Zambia and Tanzania for one off permissions, leaving about 20 and 90 tons of ivory respectively gathering more dust, and costing money in the process to keep it safe, more than enough reason for Tanzania to have already declared their intention to re-apply ahead of the next CITES meeting. Tanzanias natural resources and tourism minister Ezekiel Maige, already on record of denouncing Kenyas recent ivory burning, and who was soon afterwards claiming that burning ivory will not stop the poaching, has since drafted in academics from the university of Dar es Salaam to strengthen his case. At least two are on record now giving their expert opinion and supporting the ministers rationale of burning being bad and selling being good, all of course entirely focused on the amount of money which can be made and at the very least a thinly concealed attempt to garner favour with a politician rather than offering new insights or solutions to the rampage amongst elephant and rhinos caused by poachers. Conservationists have subsequently dismissed the experts for a lack of understanding the complex issues surrounding the unprecedented upsurge in poaching on the continent and how best to combat the demand for ivory in the consumer markets through stricter legislation and robust enforcement measures, and not by feeding the frenzy through selling ivory which in the words of a well respected conservation guru was like pouring blood into shark filled waters. The emphasis must be fourfold, to reduce and eliminate demand in the key consumer countries like China, to disrupt and dismantle the transportation pipeline through which ivory and rhino horn are smuggled and to step up anti poaching operations in the affected areas. Let the poachers know that they are met with overwhelming force and risk their own life if they choose to go after elephant, rhinos and other game. Finally, fines must be so stiff that it bankrupts the culprits and prison terms to long that it serves as a deterrent, applicable to not just poachers but those who finance them and buy from them too. If those four measures, and there are others of course, are implemented we stand a chance to reverse the trend, otherwise we lose the war on poaching and our tourism industry will be lacking the attractions of wildlife based tourism sooner than later.
True enough adds this correspondent in closing, but will the two positions reconcile somewhere, meet in the middle and find common ground when there is so much money at stake and when those who so relentlessly push for the legalization of the sale of ivory can make quite a bit on the side for advocacy and consulting. Time will tell, so watch this space for the next chapter on this long running saga.
African conservation news – Ivory, burn or sell – The controversy rages on
IVORY BURN OR SELL, THE CONTROVERSY RAGES ON