An iconic scene from East Africa – an elephants family in the foreground and the snow capped Mt. Kilimanjaro in the background. While the mountain is in Tanzania across the border, it can be viewed clearly from Amboseli, Kenya.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, regulates ivory trading. When elephant numbers were plummeting in the 1980s, CITES had a legal ivory quota system. That system had no restraining effect, because it facilitated easy laundering. Tanzania in the 1980s lost a staggering 236,000 elephants. Between 1974 and 1989, Kenya’s elephants fell from about 167,000 to 16,000, down 90 percent.
The only effort that has ever proved effective was the bitterly won ivory ban implemented by CITES in 1990. Ivory prices instantly collapsed. Elephant populations slowly increased. The ban worked.
But it lasted only until 1999. That year, CITES allowed Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to sell 50 tons of stockpiled ivory to Japan, calling it a “one-time sale.” Then China wanted in. In a procedural sleight-of-hand, in 2008 the CITES secretariat let China bid on 102 tons of ivory from Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. (Another “one-time sale.”)
Immediately after China got its 2008 ivory pass, killing surged. In Kenya, for instance, fewer than 50 elephants were killed in 2007; this rocketed to about 250 in 2009 and just under 400 in 2012.
Permitting China to import ivory in 2008 opened the floodgates to laundering illegal tusks and stockpiling for more anticipated “one-time sales.” All this because some demand carvings that people could — literally — live without. CITES must re-institute a clear, unequivocal, permanent ban on ivory trading.
Tanzania — where some estimate 60 elephants are being killed daily — recently petitioned Cites for a “one-time sale” of stockpiled tusks. Tanzania further sought ongoing permission to sell tusks, hides, feet, ears, tails and — if any remain — live elephants. Following fierce protest, Tanzania in January withdrew its proposal. For now.
How many elephants are dying? If the 38 tons of tusks seized in 2011 represented 10 percent of illegal ivory, it translates to something over 40,000 elephants killed annually — an elephant every 15 minutes. Read here the article by NYTimes.