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Ivory traders get tusked

Elephant

Ring one up for the elephants! The most recent CITES meeting in Doha, Qatar has drawn to a close and amongst the numerous resolutions, there was a significant victory for elephants and those opposed to the ivory trade. The proposals from Tanzania and Zambia to downgrade the conservation status of their elephant populations and to sell over 100 tons of ivory stockpiles through auctions were rejected.

These decisions should be welcomed and will hopefully go some way to tightening the ivory markets. Without the sales, the markets become smaller with less incentive to supply them. This in turn will allow authorities the space to clamp down on elephant poaching and the illegal markets, both locally in numerous African states and internationally.

It must be noted that Tanzania, Zambia and China, the principal parties involved in these proposed trades, are amongst the worst offenders and have the poorest of records when it comes to poaching and illegal markets. Giving them the go-ahead would have been akin to handing the bottle store keys to a drunk.

Contrary to my suspicions, it would seem that in this instance voting did not follow the line of petty politics and economics. General press and convention reports indicate that the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) , one of the tools CITES uses to monitor elephants and ivory movements, presented damning research showing an increase in poaching and the illegal trade in ivory over the past 5 years. This no doubt had a substantial impact on delegates and helped sway their votes.

But other species were not so lucky. Resolutions seeking to enhance the protection status of polar bears, sharks, whales and blue-fin tuna for example were all defeated. These decisions again ask serious questions as to the primary aim of CITES: is it indeed a conservation body fulfilling its mandate of controlling trade in order to protect species, or has it become a vehicle for vested interests to facilitate and manipulate trade?

In the closing press release issued by IUCN, it was stated that, “It’s time for joint action and for regulatory bodies to work together to ensure the continued survival of species threatened by wildlife trade”.  Do they really mean this? Surely then there are no arguments as to why we cannot afford these species the ultimate protection?

This topic is worthy of further debate…….

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Ian Michler

Ian has spent the last 24 years working as a specialist guide, photo-journalist and consultant across Africa, including a stint of 13 years based in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. When not guiding, he writes predominately for Africa Geographic covering topics on conservation, wildlife management, ecotourism, and the environment, and has been writing his popular monthly column since 2001. Ian is also the author and photographer of seven natural history and travel books on Africa, and is a past winner of the bird category in the Agfa Wildlife photographic competition (1997). He has also worked as a researcher and field coordinator on various natural history television documentaries for international broadcasters and as a consultant on ecotourism to various private sector and government agencies. Prior to his life in the wilderness, he spent eight years practicing as a stockbroker in Cape Town and Johannesburg.