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The ivory trade is covered in the blood of Africans as well as elephants

During the late 1960s and early 1970s there was a comedy show on US TV called "Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In”. Perhaps by strange coincidence, a man by the name of Rowan Martin from Zimbabwe was commissioned by CITES to prepare a report (and was paid $50,000) on the elephant ivory trade, and he presented a positive review. This report was presented at the recent CITES Standing Committee meeting in Geneva, and seems to have been roundly dismissed. Will Travers from the Born Free Foundation who was present in Geneva had this to say:

“Earlier in the week – on Tuesday, which seems like an age ago – Dr Rowan Martin, a longtime advocate of legal ivory trade, submitted a report on a Decision-Making Mechanism for future ivory trade.
However, the report, which contained many flaws (inaccuracies, personal opinions and a proposal which may even be illegal under international law concerning the establishment of an ivory cartel) was roundly criticised by many Parties here at the Standing Committee including the USA, EU, Kenya, India, Israel, Central African Republic, Congo and more.
In light of these criticisms it was decided on Tuesday that a small group would go away and come back with recommendations as to what to do with this $50,000 report!
Comments must be submitted by 31 August 2012.
So here’s my take on all this. A terrible report is almost, but not quite, dead and buried. The process that might lead to a future legal trade in ivory needs to be fully reconsidered (and CoP16 in Thailand is FAR too early) and speculation about whether there may be legal trade in the near future needs to be taken off the table as it is, in my view, fuelling demand and elephant slaughter.”

Comedy? CITES paid for this report, and identified Rowan Martin to put it together. That is comedy, or better put –  tragicomedy. The southern African elephant range states, including Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia are all pushing to be able to sell their official ivory stocks – supposedly these tusks all come from elephants dying natural deaths, culling operations (yes, too many elephants), problem animal shootings and seizures from poachers. Zimbabwe says it is storing $55 million worth of ivory

Many of these countries say they need to sell such ivory to support elephant conservation programmes – in other words, elephants need to pay for their own future existence.  And they say that by supplying the legal market, poaching would be halted. That was why CITES allowed legal “one time” sales from stockpiles in the past (1997 and 2008). And guess what – the legal sales did not stop elephant poaching (2012 is the worst year to date for illegal ivory seizures – meaning out of control poaching) and thus did not contribute to elephant conservation programmes.

The simple problem with ivory is that it is and always has been worth a lot of money. White gold. Elephant ivory has been valued since time immemorial - there exist figurines made of mammoth ivory carved by the humans living with them. The slave trade was closely interlinked with the ivory trade in Africa – both were valuable to the Arab traders in Zanzibar and Lamu for example. And remember that the markets are not always located in Asia – piano keys and snooker balls and cutlery handles were all made of ivory not so long ago in the West. And just a few weeks ago, one tonne of ivory jewellery worth well over $2 million was confiscated from two traders in New York City.

Ivory has also killed very many hundreds of thousands of people, and not just the brave rangers attempting to protect elephants from well-organized and very well-armed poaching gangs. Ivory has funded civil wars and militias – most recently those invading Cameroon to kill hundreds of elephants to fund their activities in Chad and Sudan.  Before that, ivory facilitated the arming of militias and armies in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola, Cote d’Ivoire, Zaire and Sudan as a short list, and we are still counting the innocent people who were killed, raped, maimed and displaced by wars funded with ivory. Ivory is covered in the blood of Africans as well as elephants.  

So what is the solution? All ivory should be made illegal, and CITES should wake up and not allow any sales. Ivory should be made equivalent to Class A drugs. Anyone trading in ivory should receive prison sentences and their stocks confiscated like in New York, whether they sell in China, Vietnam, Democratic Republic of Congo. Those countries with ivory stockpiles should destroy them as recently happened in Gabon. No loopholes, no excuses, no trade, no tolerance, no stockpiles, no value. Ivory is a curse for humans and is best worn by elephants.

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Posted by Pieter Kat at 20:23

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