2012 wasn’t a good year for elephants. While the plight of the rhino has been well publicized with the shocking figures as regards rhino poaching last year, especially in South Africa, it seems that the trade in ivory is rearing its ugly head again as well. Already this year a herd of elephants was brutally massacred in Tsavo East, Kenya. A massacre like this has not happened in two decades there. Some say we could be back in the situation last seen in the 80’s which is a horrifying thought. Why are we stepping backwards instead of forward? There are many complicated theories and reasons but at the end of the day the answer is simple – there is still demand, and it is increasing due to the rising rich and middle classes in Asia and also elsewhere. The perception that ivory is a luxury product signifying wealth and status persists. Governments look the other way while every possible loophole and coverup is contrived right under their noses. Many people in Africa are still poor and desperate enough to take whatever opportunity to pocket some cash – and the amount they get is literally pennies compared to what the syndicates and resellers are making out of this trade.
The legal sell-offs of stockpiled ivory every now and then since the total ban imposed in 1989 by CITES might have damaged the progress that was being made after the ban – though there is still no concensus around whether this is true or not. But what is known is that unscrupulous people at all levels have used these sell-offs to their advantage and sales of illegal ivory might have actually been boosted instead of curbed as planned. It is staggering to notice how many naive people believe that simply slapping on some rules and bans is enough – they do not take into account how much corruption there is still around the world and at all levels. Furthermore what is the impact when the demand is still the same and growing and the ivory gets seized? The demand still needs to be satisfied so more elephants get killed, and more than required will be killed to serve as a buffer in case some of it is seized.
This blog post is not meant to explain the situation or propose a solution, but rather is a simple summary to raise awareness that the elephant poaching problem has not gone away despite many people actually believing that we have made progress with this issue since the 80’s – this is, sadly, far from the truth. The seizures of ivory and the numbers of elephants killed by poachers for ivory is rising and has actually spiked in 2012. One look at the immense resources put in to curb the illegal drug trade versus the actual results gives me little hope about a workable solution to this problem which certainly holds far less political sway.
The question is what will 2013 and beyond hold in store for these majestic creatures?