Monday, 3 October 2016

Saving the elephants and rhinos

The Great Elephant Census published this month that 30% of Africa’s elephants have been wiped out between 2007 and 2014. That’s 144,000 elephants killed in 7 years. At the current rate of decline of 8% per year, African elephants are on the path to extinction. 

Every year some 30,000 elephants and 1,100 rhinos are brutally killed by poachers. Their tusks and horns are hacked off and trafficked around the world, mainly to countries in Asia where demand is highest but also to Western countries. They are brutally butchered by heavily armed criminal gangs using an arsenal of weapons, including AK-47s, helicopter gunships, snares, and poison. Terrorist groups are also involved in poaching and controlling transport routes for ivory.

Since poaching for the ivory trade is the most pressing threat facing elephants, the closure of all ivory markets, both international and domestic, is critical for their survival.

Currently, a legal ivory trade exists in the UK, and significant amounts of ivory are also sold online. This legal trade serves as a cover for illegal sales of ivory. The law is ineffective and unworkable, and ivory continues to be sold without the required paperwork. The police and the courts don’t have the resources to monitor the trade or prosecute all cases where the law is broken.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. The first treaty was eventually signed in 1973.

There is now international momentum to ban ivory trading. It appears to be the only thing that will dramatically change the elephants’ prospects of survival.

The 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (CoP17) will take place in Johannesburg, South Africa from 24 September. This is the opportunity for international agreement on a clampdown on sales of ivory.

That’s why I have signed a letter to Theresa May to take action to stop the domestic ivory market, but also for the UK to vote to stop this trade globally.