The Heat is on the Elephants

6 Jun 2007

The 14th meeting, Conference of the Parties of the Washington Convention on International trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora at The Hague (Netherlands), 3-15 June 2007

Even though he has been asked to support the moratorium on international ivory trading, M. Juppé, State Minister of Ecology and Sustainable Development assured in a Press Release on June 4th that « France will continue to pledge its relentless support in the fight against poaching and illegal trading of elephant ivory. »

In accordance with the position presented at The Hague by two elephant range-states, Kenya and Mali, all possibilities of legal international trading should be prohibited for the next twenty years. The international network SSN (Species Survival Network) to which Robin des Bois contributes and French organisations such as France Nature Environment, The National Society for the Protection of the Nature, The Brigitte Bardot Foundation, Greenpeace France and IFAW France are in favor of this position; yet the State Minister does not listen to us.

In a revealing ironical and unintentional statement from the IUCN* (International Union for the Conservation of the Nature) website, “the decision to establish an organization of illegal killings of elephants was taken in 1997 in Harare Zimbabwe”. Surely, what the IUCN wanted to say was that MIKE (Monitoring Illegal Killing of Elephants) was meant to accompany the disastrous decision to reopen the international trading of Austral African ivory; this decision immediately triggered a poaching boom on the African Continent and the immigration of reputed Asian merchants drawn in by the prospect of profitable international trading of endangered animal and plant species. This is the vicious circle faced by endangered species.

MIKE is a type of Pan-African funeral network for elephants co-ordinated by the IUCN; for safety reasons MIKE rarely leaves the protected or fenced-in areas to list the related deaths. However more than 80% of elephants live outside of these parks and this is where they are the most vulnerable from poaching. According to the well researched proposal of Mali and Kenya, the “undertakers” MIKE have counted 2,343 elephants killed for their tusks within 6 years; since November 2004, a total of 40 tons of ivory has been seized by Customs worldwide representing more than 5,500 elephants. The divide is even greater if we consider that Customs seize only 15% of illegal ivory, yet this statistic seems optimistic. If so there would be close to 20,000 elephants, poached and slaughtered each year. Regardless of the 20 million Euros granted by the European Union let alone the extra funding, MIKE’s vision is more than blurred.

The elephants are the largest terrestrial mammals. Birth intervals can reach 13 years if the conditions of the habitat and the density of the specie are unfavorable, the gestation period is 22 months. In 1990 the average weight of a tusk was 15 to 20 kg. Today elephant tusks weight only 3.5 to 4 kg; this is testimony that elephants are slaughtered younger and younger before reaching adulthood and their full reproductive age.

The proposal from Kenya and Mali, supported by Ghana, Chad, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger and Togo is realistic even if the duration of 20 years could be slightly reduced; this proposal along with the reinforcement of the sanctions towards the traffickers in Europe and elsewhere is the only step which could discourage the poaching and the ivory Mafia. It is also the only solution which will enable the two species, African and Asian Elephants to resist the threat of global warming; M. Shafqat Kakakhel the Executive Director of the United Nations Program for the Environment (UNPE) said during the opening session of the conference at The Hague. “The species must be robust to fight global warming and The Washington Convention has in this sense an important responsibility”.

If The European Union and France persist in their disastrous plan to dispute the current state of elephants as put forward by Kenya and Mali and if the European Union and France oppose the proposal they act as the elephant’s “exterminator” “liquidation sale before global warning” would be their adequate slogan.

* on June 5th 2007

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