China's thirst for ivory is a death sentence for Africa's elephants

Now the slaughter of elephants is worse than at any time since 1989

Share
Related Topics

Across Africa, elephants are now being slaughtered in unprecedented numbers, in one of the greatest wildlife catastrophes the world has ever seen – a frenzy of killing sparked by the insatiable demand for ivory for the Chinese market. 

No one knows exactly how many African elephants are left. Analyses suggest that the 2007 estimates of 400,000 to 600,000 animals are wildly inaccurate, with some believing the number is no higher than 400,000 and possibly as low as 250,000.  With numbers being killed now as high as 52,000 annually, according to a recent estimate by the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington, time is running out for these amazing creatures.

Yet the demand that is driving this disaster was itself given a disastrous impetus by a decision five years ago to let China become an ‘Approved Ivory  Trading State’ – a ‘licensed buyer’ of ivory, in a  supposed ‘one-off’ legal sale of ivory from four southern African countries, whose elephant populations were then considered healthy.

People seem to have forgotten this decision, especially those that gave it the strongest support at the time.  It was made by the Standing Committee of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, the UN body which is supposed to regulate international wildlife trade.

Many environmental and conservation groups, such as my own Environmental  Investigation Agency, warned that the consequences would be catastrophic  -  that the creation of a legal market for ivory in China would let the illegal market flourish as never before. We predicted that giving China legal ivory imports would mean a death sentence for many of Africa’s elephants as it would lead to massive increase in poaching to satisfy the new Chinese demand.

All this has sadly come to pass.  The horrible consequences are clear, with the slaughter of elephants across Africa worse than at any time since 1989 when the international ivory trade was banned by CITES  in response to an earlier elephant  poaching catastrophe.

The 2008 decision was a terrible misjudgement. It was outrageous – and so was the fact, which has also been forgotten, that the British Government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown actively supported it.

Today Britain has an added responsibility to help stop the elephant slaughter and to end the demand for ivory by taking action to ban the domestic ivory market across Europe, the US, Japan and of course China.  It is for Britain now to make up for its terrible blunder in 2008 by leading the fight against the crisis, which may see the African elephant, one of the world's most charismatic animals, driven to extinction.

Allan Thornton is founder and chair of EIA Limited UK

You can read more about the Independent's Christmas campaign here.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Port Eliot Festival  

How to keep it real and escape from the screen this summer

Simon Kelner
 

Our sanctions will not cripple Russia. It is doing a lot of the dirty work itself

Hamish McRae
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on