I am deeply concerned about the ongoing one-off ivory auction that started on 28 October in Namibia and ends on Wednesday, 6 November 2008 in South Africa.
I have spent many years looking at issues of elephant conservation and ivory trade and played a major role in successfully eliminating the massive ivory poaching that characterized what is considered the darkest period for African elephants in Kenya in the late 1980s, I believe that auctioning the ivory stockpiles would cause poaching to increase particularly in the central, eastern and western African elephant range states where poaching is not yet properly controlled.
Namibia auctioned its 9 tons of ivory on Tuesday, 28 October raising $1.2-million. Zimbabwe and Botswana have also auctioned their ivory to the exclusive Chinese and Japanese buyers making $480,000 and $1.1-million respectively. On 6 November, South Africa will auction the largest cache of ivory – 51 tons – to conclude this controversial sale. According to the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the parties to the auction, the funds generated from this sale will be channeled directly into conservation. I am skeptical and wonder if there is a way of knowing whether these funds will actually help conservation.
The entry of China into the legal trade is also a cause of concern for me. It is hard to believe that a country which in 2002 scored only 5.6 out of 100 points in the CITES Elephant Trade Information Systems (ETIS) ranking – which ranks countries on how effectively they tackle illegal ivory – could have scored 63 points this year. China has admitted loosing track of 120 tons of ivory from the government’s official stockpiles in the past 12 years.
Recently, Kenya saw the successful conviction of Chinese nationals accused of smuggling ivory that appears to have originated from 22 out of the 37 African elephant range states. The entry of China – the destination for most of the illegal ivory – is an ill advised move that will only serve to open up the illegal ivory markets.
Reports already indicate that poaching is increasing in most parts of Africa. The Kenya Wildlife Service – Kenya’s official wildlife authority – has reported that poaching is increasing in key elephant zones. Central and west Africa have also witnessed escalating poaching in recent times. The Democratic Republic of Congo, caught up in a complex civil strife, has become a haven for poachers.
Although CITES secretary-general Willem Wijnstekers says that southern African states have everything under control, it cannot be true for Zimbabwe. Reports by bloggers at WildlifeDirect.org and on independent media show that Zimbabwe is experiencing an unprecedented decimation of wildlife. Reports indicate that Zimbabwe may have lost up to 80% of its wildlife. There is reason to believe that a large percentage of this wildlife consists of elephants.
As the hammer falls for the last time in South Africa on Thursday, we cannot in any way say that this is a victory for conservation. It is indeed a great disservice to conservation.
I categorically denounce this auction and call on CITES to rethink how they run endangered species affairs. It should not be lost to CITES that they exist to protect the endangered species against trade malpractices, not to serve partisan interests that work against the species.