IoS Charity Appeal: Slaughter of elephants on a huge scale

The animals are being killed in record numbers to supply the illegal ivory trade. Unless there is unified action across all nations, these creatures will disappear from the face of the Earth

Share

Poaching elephants for the illegal trade in ivory is becoming increasingly industrialised. The rate of killing, against a relatively slow natural population growth, could result in the extinction of the species – the largest land animal on the planet – in areas of Africa where it was once plentiful. The prospect of the elephant joining the dodo and, more recently, some sub-species of rhino and tigers, is a horrifying one.

The reasons why elephants are being slaughtered in escalating numbers in recent years are as much about economics as the drugs, war and terrorism that the trade funds.

Newly rich Asians demand increasing numbers of the ivory goods they associate with a classy Western lifestyle, driving up prices and profits – and are being aided by a massive failure on the part of the international community to enforce even existing rules. Those most closely involved in trying to fight the illegal trade, including The Independent on Sunday's partnership charity Space for Giants, warn that the demand from Asia threatens to wipe out many of the most endangered species within decades, if not earlier.

Poaching is becoming industrialised, with the most advanced weaponry being deployed to maximise the "harvest" of ivory – now more valuable weight for weight than gold. Governments, police and wildlife services across Africa are finding the battle difficult. An estimated 30,000 elephants have been killed every year since the start of the decade, and experts believe the number has soared this year. Estimates suggest that 100 elephants per day are being killed for their ivory. Today, rhinos are being killed in even the most heavily protected private sanctuaries.

Dr Max Graham, chief executive of Space for Giants, which works in Kenya to defend the elephant population, explains: "The high price of ivory in Asia is driving the current surge in poaching globally, while local poverty and poor governance are enabling it to happen locally. There are things that we can do, however."

Dr Graham points to the work the charity does in training and supporting wildlife community scouts, working with local magistrates and law enforcement agencies to prosecute the poachers, creating refuges, and to lobby governments around the world to take more effective action.

Efforts by Space for Giants and other groups have culminated in a planned London conference in February. Heads of government from nations affected by wildlife destruction will attend, and it will be hosted by the Prime Minister. Prince Charles and Prince William will be high-profile supporters of the effort.

"In the past five or six years, the poaching of elephants has gone off the scale. I think it will be dramatically higher than 30,000 this year, based on the large number of ivory seizures we have seen this year, which exceeds all previous records, and the high carcass count generally," adds Mary Rice, executive director of the Environmental Investigation Agency.

The rise of elephant poaching is driven by increased demand for ivory in countries such as China, Vietnam, Thailand and Japan, which is satisfied by a rush of organised crime into a black market that offers low risk and high rewards.

But who is to blame for allowing this cruel and illegal activity to flourish? Ms Rice points the finger firmly at Cites, the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, set up in 1975 to protect 35,000 species of animals and plants and signed up to by 179 governments around the world. In 1989, Cites technically banned ivory trading, but has occasionally allowed auctions of ivory stockpiles.

"It's not working at the moment. In principle, Cites should work, but in practice it's very slow, and it doesn't seem to provide an adequate response to what's going on. There is a lot of talk but not much meaningful action," Ms Rice said.

Smoke signals: Kenya’s 2011 bonfire of tusks, a symbol of its anti-poaching commitment Smoke signals: Kenya’s 2011 bonfire of tusks, a symbol of its anti-poaching commitment

"Cites does have teeth, but it doesn't choose to use them. We see it repeatedly taking countries to task for non-compliance [with its trading rules], but then giving them more time and another chance to go away and come back. They won't apply punitive measures."

Cites has the power to apply tough sanctions on wildlife trade that would ban countries from trading a wide range of reptiles, birds and primates that can be legally bought and sold with the right permits. Such a ban could represent be a significant deterrent, because this trade is a good source of income for many countries. Losing it would represent a significant hit to their economies, experts say.

Although Cites does occasionally imposed sanctions – it currently has one on preventing Guinea from trading any of the species it covers – but critics say if they are to provide an effective deterrent, they need to make the sanctions much tougher and levied far more frequently.

Ms Rice says the clampdown on ivory trading has been made considerably harder because, although the trade is technically banned, Cites has made some exceptions. This has created a legal market, which illegal traders are able to hide behind. For example, about 90 per cent of the ivory traded in China is illegally sourced, compared with 10 per cent that is legal.

Two large ivory sales – to Japan in 1999 and to China and Japan in 2008 – allowed vast quantities to enter the market legally, while a separate agreement allows passengers from Zimbabwe to China to take 10kg with them for "personal consumption".

"The only solution is to have a complete and total ban everywhere," says Ms Rice.

Heather Sohl, chief species adviser at WWF-UK, says that while Cites is helping to address the problems of elephant poaching, it needs to do much more. "Our national governments are failing to deliver Cites. If it was implemented to the full extent, we wouldn't have this poaching crisis.

"The countries are failing to deliver their commitments. WWF is calling for real action to be taken, such as the consideration of sanctions. Cites has teeth: it has the ability to restrict trade."

Kenya, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Uganda, Tanzania, Vietnam and Thailand are the eight countries that represent the highest concern "in terms of their failure to clamp down on illegal ivory trade", Ms Sohl said, adding: "There have been arrests, but not at the scale required to act as a deterrent. Many of those arrests are not taken through to prosecution, and if they are prosecuted, the sentence is very weak compared to the profit that can be made.

"To tackle this problem, we need more boots on the ground to stop the poaching, more effective law enforcement along the trade route and more effective inspection and seizures. We need to tackle this as the serious crime that it is."

John Scanlon, Cites secretary-general, defends his organisation, pointing out that without Cites any country could trade any species with any other country. However, he concedes that enforcement of its rules is complicated by the fact that decisions are made by a 19-country "standing committee" which, despite having the same goal, has often fundamentally disagreed over how to achieve this, including whether it is right to ban ivory trade.

Advocates of ivory trade include some African "range states". They argue that poaching cannot be stopped and that a properly regulated market will enable be better for all parties involved.

But Mr Scanlon says the situation is now so bad that countries have agreed to put aside their differences in a renewed effort to tackle the problem. Historically, there has been a difference of opinion, for example, between states in Africa. But they have agreed to put aside their differences and to debate those another time, and we are seeing unprecedented levels of international co-operation," he said.

"And we are seeing increased levels of investigation and conviction, including in China."

He points to the Cites summit in March, at which representatives from the organisation's signatory countries agreed to take steps to fight the poaching scourge. These included using public awareness to curb demand for ivory and increased forensic tracing of seized ivory using genetic techniques.

Ms Sohl agrees there is cause for hope. The eight countries have sent to the Cites secretariat their plans for dealing with the problem. Although there is no sign of those proposals being made public, Mr Scanlon says their very existence represents a significant development that will inform a major Cites meeting in July 2014.

How you can help

Your donation to Space for Giants can help save these magnificent creatures from extinction.

£30 can support a wildlife ranger for a week to protect elephants in northern Kenya.

£50 will provide a pack that could save the life of a wildlife ranger injured protecting elephants.

£75 will support the training of a law enforcement officer on criminal justice processes, increasing the chances of successful prosecutions and higher fines for wildlife crime.

£100 could secure for ever one acre of a 60,000-acre elephant sanctuary in northern Kenya.

You can read more about our Christmas campaign here

React Now

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

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Recruitment Genius: HVAC & Mechanical Service Estimator

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Yorkshire based firm looking to...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in August  

Ferguson: The sad truth is that Michael Brown was killed because he was a black man

Bonnie Greer
A protestor poses for a  

Ferguson verdict: This isn't a 'tragedy'. This is part of a long-running genocide of black men in America

Otamere Guobadia
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital
In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty