Tag Archives: ivory trade

Ivory. Power and Poaching in Africa: Somerville’s knowledge of the ivory trade past and present is close to unparalleled

The PBD

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Something slightly different today – a book review. But I’ve not reviewed a book since…well, I can’t remember… So let’s start with a quote to get us going:

“The elephant is the most harassed of all African mammals…Its reduction in numbers is still progressing, and special measures may become necessary in order to save it from extinction”

Perhaps surprisingly, this is not a recent observation from an NGO, government body, or conservationist. It comes from Major Hingston of the Fauna Preservation Society (a British NGO), writing in the 1930s. Evidently, the poaching threat facing Africa’s elephants, and recognition of their uncertain future, is far from new.

Keith Somerville’s Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa tracks the ebb and flow of ivory trading across Africa over the centuries, reflecting on ivory’s relationship with foreign traders, colonial administrations and modern-day insurgencies. We read of elephant herds being wiped out in various regions, of the “exploits” of big-game hunters, of the early movements towards regulation of hunting, and of the tensions between local communities and the elephants themselves.  It’s sobering to see many hundreds of years and tens of thousands of poached elephants reduced to numbers on a page – often accompanied by the price (not value, I should emphasise) of their ivory. From the Congo Basin’s forest elephants to the last of the Saharan herds; from Kenya to South Africa; from Gabon to Mozambique, Somerville masters complexity with a clear, well-researched and fluid narrative.

Ivory burning
A Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) officer stands near a burning pile of 15 tonnes of elephant ivory seized in Nairobi National Park.  A number of African governments have taken to burning tusks as a show of defiance against poaching. Critics say this is little more than a publicity stunt and that efforts to stop poaching still fall short.  Photo Credit: The Daily Telegraph

He argues strongly in favour of bringing local communities on-board in conservation efforts throughout this book (something we’re seeing work well in Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy, among others). He is critical of colonial regimes and modern western NGOs for imposing their visions of appropriate wildlife management on African states, and for distancing local people both physically and emotionally from their immediate natural environment.  As long as they lack the support of local communities, conservation efforts will be fundamentally hamstrung.  Farmers and pastoralists are far more likely to kill elephants which trample crops or break fences if they see no value in the elephant.  At the same time, they are less likely to inform the authorities of poaching, and more likely to facilitate or participate in that poaching for financial gain. Yet to place the blame for the shocking declines in elephant numbers in recent decades on the farmer who shoots or poisons an elephant which destroys or threatens his/her livelihood, is very misleading.

“Corruption, political power and wealth accumulation and utilisation are at the heart of the ivory trade, but it also feeds off impoverishment of communities, resentment over alienation from control of wildlife sources, and conflict leading to availability of weapons and opportunities to poach with impunity, whether by local people, criminal gangs, militias, rebel groups, and national armies – or a combination of them all”

Keith Somerville, “Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa”, p.317

By a similar token, Somerville argues that the narrative of “ivory-insurgency-terrorism”, which has sprung up and gained much momentum in recent years, is overly simplistic, perhaps close to baseless.  To stress how Boko Haram, Al Shabaab or other insurgencies have used illicit ivory trading to fund their operations overlooks far more significant revenue streams available to these groups. They may dabble in ivory trading opportunistically, but, writes Somerville, it is not central to their financing.

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Members of Somalia’s Al Shabaab militia. Somerville sets out to debunk what he considers a convenient “ivory-insurgency-terrorism” narrative, which does not fit with reality on the ground. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh

So who – or what – is to blame? Well, corruption and conflict certainly play key roles in facilitating and increasing poaching.  Somerville stresses that whenever there has been little threat of punitive action due to poor law enforcement, corruption or civil war, then officials, poachers, traders and smugglers have been able to act with impunity, and hundreds of thousands of elephants have been slaughtered as a result.  It comes as no surprise that the most politically stable African states with the lowest levels of corruption – Botswana, for instance – have the fewest problems with poaching and have been most successful in sustaining elephant populations.

Somerville’s account is replete with instances of well-connected individuals within the political, military and even “conservation” elites being actively involved in poaching and ivory smuggling in their respective countries. There has even been evidence of military helicopters and heavy weaponry being used to kill elephants in large numbers. Whistle-blowers have often been ‘silenced’, so to speak, or otherwise removed from the spotlight.

There is some indication that African states have begun to tackle the corruption which has been so endemic in the post-colonial period. Ceremonial burnings of seized ivory or national stockpiles are now used by a number of African governments as a show of resolve against poaching. However, unless these public displays are backed up by significant anti-poaching and, just as important, anti-corruption measures, their real impact is understandably limited.

“Levels of elephant poaching and illegal ivory trading in a country are more likely to be related to wildlife management practices, law enforcement and corruption than to choice of CITES appendix listings and consequent extent of trade restriction.”

Zoological Society of London, ‘International Wildlife Trafficking: Solutions to a Global Crisis’, Symposium, February 2014

The everyday reality of corruption, crime and politics enables illegal poaching to survive in spite of international pressure for a more extensive ban on the trade – in addition, that is, to the CITES ban of 1989.  But following Somerville’s logic in his conclusion takes us to a slightly disconcerting conclusion: if “a free-for-all for illegal raw ivory [as a result of a complete trade ban under CITES]” is not the answer, then some degree of regulated trade must be. What Somerville terms “locally acceptable forms of sustainable use” necessarily entail management of elephant populations. Some reviewers have suggested that this leaves the door open to a legal, regulated trade in ivory as a logical extension of Somerville’s argument.  Sustainable management of elephant populations doesn’t necessarily mean legal (or illegal) ivory trading, but that’s based on zero demand for new ivory. Realistically, that’s not going to happen for some time, if indeed ever.

For some, this conclusion might be uncomfortable, but Somerville’s knowledge of the ivory trade past and present is close to unparalleled (this book is certainly one of the most comprehensive studies of pan-African ivory trading to date), and we would do well to heed to his words. His research for this book began in the early 1980s, and over the past 35 years he has travelled extensively throughout sub-Saharan Africa, interviewing men and women on the front line of elephant conservation efforts. Their views evidently inform his analysis as much as his own.  According to Somerville, it’s wrong to assume that all conservationists – many of the people who devote their lives to protecting elephants – are in favour of a blanket ivory ban.

Elephants Fence Breaking.jpg
Fence-breaking and crop-destruction are two of the most common instances of conflict between local farmers/pastoralists and elephants. As you can see, even the most sturdy of fences cannot stop a herd of elephants if they are determined to move through the obstacle.  Photo Credit: Justconservation.org / Hitchcock et al. (2015), Elephant Engagements and Indigenous Peoples: Borders, Boundaries and Barriers in Southern Africa

The inescapable truth is this: Africa’s human population is growing faster than that of any other continent, and is forecast to eclipse 2.4 billion by 2050.  This will, beyond any shadow of doubt, intensify the scope and scale of Africa’s human-wildlife conflict in years to come. If sustainable solutions on a local level can be developed as a means of conserving elephant populations – even if, and it pains me to write this, a legal trade in ivory results – surely that is preferable to local, regional, or continental extinction of the species?  Not ideal by any means; but preferable.  What we cannot lose sight of is Somerville’s focus on getting local communities onside in conservation efforts. It is so crucial in giving us the best possible chance of preserving Africa’s majestic giants for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.

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The Chinese government has recently announced that 67 of its licensed ivory facilities are being shut down, including 12 of its 35 ivory carving factories and several dozen of its more than 130 ivory retailers. According to the Chinese State Forestry Administration, which oversees wildlife trade issues, the other facilities will be closed before the end of the year. This is being hailed as a massive step forward in tackling ivory supply & demand in the Far East. Although Somerville’s book doesn’t go into Far Eastern demand in great detail, he does acknowledge that the twin pressures of rising demand and the sort of corruption/conflict on the ground in African range states are two sides of the same coin. It’s pretty simple, really – break the demand for ivory, and you go a long way to reducing the poaching of elephants.  But it’s still a long road ahead to bring the illegal ivory trade under control. And there’s likely to be further ups and downs on the way.

Ivory carvin
China’s 3,000 year old ivory carving industry is finally being reined in by Beijing, with the announcement in March 2017 that 67 licensed ivory facilities are being shut down. China remains one of the largest sources of demand for African ivory. Photo Credit: National Geographic/How Hwee Young (EPA)

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If you want to buy Somerville’s Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa for yourself, a quick google will take you to a number of online bookstores, or, if you’d prefer to do things the old-fashioned way, just head into your local bookshop!

Ivory. Power and Poaching in Africa – review of majestic history

Africa at the LSE

LSE’s Joanna Lewis describes this book as the best academic account to date of the history of the supply side of ivory trade.


ivoryAnyone who believes that China’s recent pledge to ban the ivory trade by the end of 2017 will make a difference to the threat hanging over African elephants will have a rude awakening after reading Keith Somerville’s devastating and majestic history of the supply chain from Africa. Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa is a gripping, bloody and scholarly narrative dedicated to two groups of brave people: those who risk their lives to save elephants; and those who argue that banning the ivory trade is not the answer.


Somerville is a highly-respected journalist, writer and academic who has spent nearly 40 years focusing on Africa, much of that time, broadcasting for the BBC World Service. He began researching the history of the ivory trade as far back as 1981. In the course of his meticulous work on field trips and radio assignments, he has interviewed many people on the ground to understand the complex issues surrounding the trade which threatens some of Africa’s most iconic and sacred wildlife.


Thanks to his extensive knowledge of the continent, Somerville has produced the best academic account to date of the history of the supply side of this catastrophic trade. Beginning with the ancient Egyptians, he gets into his stride with a fascinating chapter on the nineteenth century, followed by the history of the trade during colonial rule. These periods, that saw modernity and globalisation start to roll out into the interior, are crucial to understanding the scale of what was to come. The next two chapters take a regional perspective on the matter: Conservation, Corruption, Crime and Conflict in East Africa and The Killing Fields of Central and Southern Africa. He then looks at the contentious history of international agreements aimed at banning the trade. He brings the story up to date with a final chapter on Resurgent Poaching: Soaring Chinese Demand and Developing Insurgency Discourse.


Somerville’s story and conclusion is as much about the history of Africa as it is about the history of some of this planet’s most awesome creatures. To understand his position, one has to accept his broad definition of poaching, which encompasses a brutal and evil trade at one end, and traditional practices and survival strategies on the other. He passionately believes it is misleading to fixate on banning the trade and to blame local insurgents, for using the sale of ivory to fund their wars. Instead, he argues, that it is more the petty, everyday reality of corruption, crime and politics, which enables illegal poaching to survive (and even surge) when there is any kind of international push for a more extensive ban on the trade. The logic then is that hunting and therefore the trade should be regulated.


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Lone elephant. Photo credit: sama093 via Flickr (http://bit.ly/2iWucOI) CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


For me, as a passionate animal lover, reared on David Attenborough documentaries and books about Elsa the Lioness like many in the West; who still remembers the exact spine-tingling moment I saw an elephant for the first time in Tsavo West, Kenya; who cannot forget the sight of orphaned baby elephants crying into the arms of their African foster parents, this makes for uncomfortable reading.


But when the argument comes from Somerville, the heart has to yield to the head. For at the crux of his position is reality: “a gate-keeper state” run by corrupt politicians, with wildlife policy too heavily influenced by “prima-bwanas” – heads of international NGOS. Local people get left out. Poorer, marginal communities’ land and grazing rights get nibbled away. They have lived alongside elephants for centuries but are being neglected and excluded. Vulnerable, they succumb to the offer of money so they can live. Supporting and strengthening communities so they can manage wildlife responsibly from the bottom up, with some controlled hunting, is an argument that many wildlife experts have come to see is the only long term viable solution.


Still, what a deterrent it could be that, if caught, those men who organise the hunting and butchering of elephants for pleasure and for their tusks, also have something they hold dear cut off…


Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa. Keith Somerville. Hurst Publishers. 2016.

http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/africaatlse/2017/01/27/book-review-ivory-power-and-poaching-in-africa-by-keith-somerville/

China announces intention to end all ivory trade by end of 2017

This is an important announcement, but one should be wary of taking it as meaning ivory trading, processing and sale in China will stop.  The state council hasn’t released the fine detail, as far as I can see from the news reports, and the devil may be in the detail.  In addition,  a very high proportion of the ivory sold there is traded illegally and not legally.  This legislation might close down laundering of poached ivory through the legal trade, which should be welcomed, but it doesn’t follow that the market for poached ivory and so the poaching and smuggling of ivory will decrease – it may even increase as no legal ivory will be sold.  Speculators in ivory will have a boon, unless the law is accompanied by far more rigorous Chinese action against the domestic illegal trade and the smuggling of poached ivory into China via Cambodia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. So it is a little early to celebrate.

After all, the 1989 CITES ban took place when there were at least one hundred thousand more elephants than now.  The ban temporarily reduced trade and then it picked up massively and over 140,000 were killed between 2010 and now and the annual rate of poaching could be as many as 20,000.  The ban has not stopped poaching or led to a recovery in elephant numbers.  Twenty-seven years of the CITES ban has led to an increase in the ivory price and a continuation of poaching at a high rate.  A ban on the legal trade in China is not a silver bullet.

China makes all the right noises but takes little action to stop Chinese nationals engaging in the ivory trade.  The recent letter to the Chinese ambassador from Namibian environmentalists condemning the Chinese role in ivory, rhino horn and other forms of illegal wildlife exploitation, is evidence of the continuing role on the ground in Africa of Chinese businessmen and criminals (often with government cover or diplomatic protection) in driving demand for ivory, horn , pangolin scales and other wildlife products. https://africajournalismtheworld.com/2016/12/29/namibia-chamber-of-environment-writes-letter-of-protest-to-chinese-ambassador-over-poaching-and-smuggling/  KS

BBC

China announces ban on ivory trade by end of 2017

Ivory is burned in KenyaAFP Kenya set alight 105 tonnes of ivory tusks in April to help tackle the illegal trade

China has announced a ban on all ivory trade and processing activities by the end of 2017.

Conservation groups hailed the decision as “historic” and a “game-changer” for the future of elephants.

The move follows a resolution at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in South Africa in October.

China has the biggest ivory market in the world – some estimates suggest 70% of the world’s trade ends up there.

Ivory can reach $1,100 (£850) per kilogram in China.

‘Great leadership’

China’s State Council announced the details of the ban on Friday.

The commercial processing and sale of ivory will stop by 31 March, and all registered traders will then be phased out, bringing a full halt to the market by the end of the year.

Conservation group WWF welcomed the latest news, calling it a “historic announcement… signalling an end to the world’s primary legal ivory market and a major boost to international efforts to tackle the elephant poaching crisis in Africa”.

Elly Pepper, deputy director of wildlife trade for the Natural Resources Defense Council, praised China for its “great leadership” on the issue.

“Setting such an aggressive timeline to close – once and for all – the largest domestic ivory market in the world is globally significant.

“It’s a game changer and could be the pivotal turning point that brings elephants back from the brink of extinction,” she said.

While the international market in ivory has been closed since 1989, legal domestic markets have continued in many countries around the world.

A surge in the killing of elephants over the past seven years has seen populations across Africa shrink by a third, according to the recently published Great Elephant Census.

China had backed the Cites resolution in October, surprising participants with the strength of its support for a ban.

Some delegates said Beijing had wanted an even stronger resolution.

Start the Week Radio 4 – ivory, Somaliland and Mau Mau secrets

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b082x79f

Ivory. Power and Poaching in Africa and Marjan Marsh Award evening

The Marjan-Marsh Awards are being presented at King’s College London (Pyramid Room) on 23rd November at 6.30pm.  The recipients are Stephane Crayne (for his courageous and vauluable work on conservation and anti-poaching projects in the Central African Republic|) and Keith Somerville for his book, Ivory.Power and Poaching in Africa.  Please come along. No booking necessary.

 

Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa by Keith Somerville
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Power and Poaching in Africa
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‘Combating elephant poaching in Africa has become an international priority, attracting Hilary Clinton, Jackie Chan and Prince Harry to
its cause. Drawing on decades of experience as a seasoned journalist,
Keith Somerville writes eloquently about the politics of ivory
poaching in Africa and why we should care.’ — Alex Vines OBE,
Head of the Africa Programme at Chatham House
Despite the 1989 global ivory trade ban, poaching and ivory smuggling have not abated. More than half of Tanzania’s elephants have been killed for their ivory since 2007. A similarly alarming story can be told of the herds in northern Mozambique and across swathes of central Africa. But why the new upsurge? The popular narrative blames a meeting of two evils — criminal poaching and terrorism. But the answer is not that simple.

Ivory follows this complex history of the tusk trade in Africa, and explains
why it is corruption, crime and politics, rather than insurgency, that we
should worry about. In this ground-breaking work, Somerville argues that
regulation — not prohibition — of the ivory trade is the best way to stop
uncontrolled poaching.

Africa and conservation – livelihoods must be found for people to help conservation

The Conservation

Ross Harvey

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182 member states of the world’s biggest convention on wildlife conservation have committed – at this year’s gathering – to consider how trade decisions impact community livelihoods.

The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) regulates trade in threatened species. But can its decisions improve livelihoods? More pointedly, can its decisions undermine the rights of communities to development, food security or their cultural heritage?

These questions feed into a wider debate about the relationship between conservation and development. Models of “fortress conservation”, “green grabbing” or “fences and fines” have been seen to place the interests of nature ahead of the development needs of local communities. This has generated resentment among some communities towards wildlife protection.

A broad range of multilateral frameworks such as Rio+20, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Sustainable Development Goals seek to address this. They envision a mutually beneficial and synergistic relationship between conservation and development objectives.

CITES decisions can improve the livelihoods of people who live in Africa. But only if the convention connects with other multilateral environmental efforts to protect biodiversity. It also needs to avoid imposing external norms without due regard for local realities. For example, in the absence of any ivory trade, member states should commit to other ways to finance conservation and improve local communities’ livelihoods. After all, these are the people on the front line of the battle against poaching.

Ivory trade for the good of the communities?

Probably the most controversial issue at this year’s CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP17) is the question of how to protect African elephants. This is an instructive lens through which to address how trade decisions may impact livelihoods.

From 2007 to 2014 roughly 27,000 African elephants a year have been killed illegally to satisfy demand for ivory in East Asia. But the threat to the elephants is geographically differentiated.

CITES protects some species from trade altogether by listing them on Appendix I if they are critically endangered. It lists other species on Appendix II if trade in that species will not undermine its sustainability, but requires regulation. Species can also be listed by regional population. For example, all African elephants are listed under Appendix I, except for the populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, which are listed on Appendix II.

The elephant populations in South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe are in healthy condition. These countries proposed that a decision-making mechanism be established to allow trade in ivory from Appendix II listed elephants. The proposal was rejected by a two-thirds majority at the convention.

Namibia and Zimbabwe have submitted additional proposals to have their elephant populations removed from CITES appendix protection listing altogether. This would allow them to trade their ivory in any way they see fit.

These countries argue that proceeds from ivory sales could make a vital contribution to financing conservation efforts. Communities would acquire some of the proceeds from ivory stockpile sales. This would provide them with an incentive to conserve elephant populations. And elephant numbers would rise as a result of conservation efforts boosted by regulated trade generating revenue for communities through tourism.

Proponents of trade legalisation argue that efforts to ban ivory sales have failed and in fact have boosted corruption and illicit trade.

These arguments carry understandable appeal but also entail risks. A decision to trade may have irreversible consequences. For instance, the natural rate of ivory supply seems unlikely to be able to satisfy demand and runs the risk of igniting currently dormant demand. Plus, maintaining a high price for ivory would maintain the current incentive to poach.

South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe are correct to point out that financing for conservation is a serious challenge. But it does not follow that a regulated trade in ivory is the solution.

How to improve livelihoods

A new reality is emerging in which the world’s largest domestic ivory markets are likely to be shut down. The US has recently closed theirs and China is likely to follow suit soon. In the absence of trading ivory, other solutions have to be found to fund conservation and improve the livelihoods of communities living on the front line of conservation efforts.

Some suggestions that have been put forward include:

A global biodiversity tax “to fund protected area management at scale in areas where there are no alternative forms of conservation land use”. Global consumers can currently pay for carbon credits, for instance, but a tax is a more efficient way of achieving a similar end.

Enabling communities living with or near wildlife to become drivers of conservation. Community members can no longer be seen as passive beneficiaries of tourism partnerships.

Better governance structures for communities to derive benefits from protecting natural resources. Community based natural resource management appears to be working in places like Namibia. A well-governed hunting industry seems to be a key success factor here, but this is debatable. Either way, well-governed hunting is not easily transposed into other contexts. The hunting industry is often guilty of regulatory abuse. Because of such abuse, Botswana has chosen to abandon hunting altogether. Some experts worry, though, that this decision may have unintended negative consequences.

A move away away from community trusts towards community land rights. The challenges faced by Botswana demonstrate the difficulty with trusts. Community trusts apply for concessions over communal land and are racked with governance difficulties. Community land rights, to the contrary, allow individual communities to make decisions about how they use their own land. Conservation land-use incentives are built in.

Critical to consider local values

Finally, the reality is that global norms often don’t fit with local value sets.

A crucial interlocutor between supply and demand is values – what people believe about elephants and ivory. This means that a total ivory trade ban may not produce an immediate reversal of the poaching pandemic. Communities that resent the imposition of external norms may respond by poaching.

Being aware of these dynamics may go a long way to improving the probability of conservation success. Spesurvival ultimately depends on improving community livelihoods and understanding local values.

African elephants – attempted tightening of ivory trade rules at CITES could create trade loophole

Daily Maverick

  • CARLOS DREWS
  • AFRICA
Photo: A Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) worker carries a tusk of an elephant as they offload them from a container to a burning site at the KWS headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, 20 April 2016. Containers loaded with ivory tusks from various parts of the country such as Mombasa, Voi, Nanyuki and other places are being offloaded at the burning site ahead of the ivory burning event on 30 April 2016 where 105 tonnes of ivory is set to be burned. This would be the single biggest haul ever to be burned. EPA/DANIEL IRUNGU

Let’s be clear: there IS a ban on the commercial international trade in ivory. There are no legal loopholes. This might come as a surprise given the increasingly loud calls for governments to adopt a “complete ivory ban” at the world’s most important wildlife trade meeting – the 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) – which starts this week in South Africa. By CARLOS DREWS.But an international ban is in place. It is the cornerstone of global efforts to save elephants and must be strictly maintained. Measures to stop the poachers and traffickers and close down domestic ivory markets have to be strengthened. But there is no way to make the ban stronger on paper – it can only be enhanced through effective enforcement.

Some countries and conservation organisations dispute this. With around 20,000-30,000 elephants being poached across Africa each year, they are pushing hard for the large elephant populations in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe to be upgraded to Appendix I of CITES in line with the rest of the continent’s elephants, arguing that this would provide them with the highest level of protection.

However, these elephant populations already benefit from this top level protection thanks to a special condition attached to their existing Appendix II listing. This prohibits these countries – which harbour over half the continent’s remaining elephants – from trading any ivory for commercial purposes. So, as the CITES Secretariat has pointed out, adding these elephants to Appendix I would have no practical effect.

Except for one critical caveat. It could inadvertently make the situation worse by opening a back door to the resumption of legal international ivory trade.

At the moment, the only way to reopen the trade is by a two-thirds majority vote of all 182 Parties at a CITES conference. Namibia and Zimbabwe are angling for this, having submitted proposals to allow them to trade ivory from their legal stocks. WWF does not support these proposals because this is not the time to contemplate even a limited resumption of the international ivory trade, and it is extremely unlikely that the world will back them.

However, there is another way that pro-trade countries could bypass the ban. Ironically, all this would require would be a change to the existing elephant listings; exactly what many anti-trade countries, conservationists and campaigners are calling for. Altering the current position in any way would automatically open up a 90-day window for countries to lodge reservations.

If this were to happen it is likely that some countries – potentially both African countries with ivory stockpiles and Asian countries with ivory consumers – could do so. This would exempt them from the current restrictions regarding elephants, so they could start trading ivory internationally again with no oversight from CITES at all. And remember, there is no possible reward to justify such a gamble.

But this is not the only reason WWF does not support the uplisting proposal. These four elephant populations do not – as the independent experts at the IUCN and TRAFFIC point out – meet the agreed scientific criteria for listing on Appendix I. They do not have a restricted range, nor are their populations small or undergoing a marked decline. Supporting a proposal that does not meet these criteria would undermine the integrity of the Convention, weakening the prospects of future protection for countless threatened species.

All sides of the ivory trade debate want to halt the slaughter of Africa’s elephants. The shocking decline in African elephant numbers detailed in the recent Great Elephant Census shows there is no time to lose: bold, urgent action is needed to tackle the poaching crisis.

Divisive debates at CoP17 over these three trade proposals will not help. WWF believes they will only serve to divert attention away from critical debates about measures, including strengthening the National Ivory Action Plan (NIAP) process, to deal with the fundamental issues behind the illegal ivory trade – corruption, inadequate laws and lack of enforcement along the illegal trade chain, along with rampant demand in Asia.

Initiated at the last conference, the NIAP process is absolutely central to global efforts to stop the poaching and the trafficking, and reduce demand for ivory. It required the 19 African and Asian countries most implicated in the illegal ivory trade to take concrete time-bound actions to address gaps in their legislation and enforcement or face sanctions. And it is now beginning to yield results.

But these gains are fragile. The conference must compel these countries to implement their ivory action plans rigorously. If not, they must be held accountable and face the threat of trade sanctions under CITES. Parties should also agree to tough decisions to discourage consumption and close down the world’s few remaining commercial domestic ivory markets.

If the world unites at this conference behind this robust approach, it will go a long way to tackling the demand fuelling the poaching crisis and the organised criminal networks driving it.

The international ivory trade is already banned. Let’s not mess with it and instead focus our combined efforts on what will make a concrete difference for elephants in the years ahead.DM

Dr Carlos Drews is acting WWF Wildlife Practice Leader

Photo: A Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) worker carries a tusk of an elephant as they offload them from a container to a burning site at the KWS headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, 20 April 2016. Containers loaded with ivory tusks from various parts of the country such as Mombasa, Voi, Nanyuki and other places are being offloaded at the burning site ahead of the ivory burning event on 30 April 2016 where 105 tonnes of ivory is set to be burned. This would be the single biggest haul ever to be burned. EPA/DANIEL IRUNGU