Ivory politics killing elephants
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 1999:
GENEVA, DUBAI––Dubai customs
officers on October 9 reportedly confiscated
41 containers holding nearly two tons of
elephant tusk ivory. Dubai airport customs
director Bouti Zafri did not disclose either the
origin or the destination of the ivory.
The seizure was believed to be the
biggest worldwide in at least 10 years. It
might have tipped opinion among the signers
of the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species in favor of reimposing the
total ban on international ivory trafficking
adopted in 1989––but the balance had already
tipped the other way.
Identified by The Namibian, of
Windhoek, as “one of Namibia’s main players
in the campaign to allow the sale of ivory
stockpiles,” Malan Lindeque in September
became CITES head of scientific coordination.
Lindeque, a 16-year employee of
the Namibian environment ministry, led the
successful effort to downlist the national elephant
population from CITES Appendix I,
under which no trade in elephant parts was
permitted, to Appendix II. Under Appendix
II, Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe may
sell ivory taken from illegal traffickers, from
elephants culled as part of government-directed
population control programs, or from elephants
dead of natural causes.
Lindeque went on to coordinate the
Namibian ivory auction held earlier in 1999.
His appointment seems to lessen the
possibility that CITES might again strengthen
prohibitions on ivory trafficking, imposed in
1989 but eased at the 1997 CITES triennial
meeting, held in Harare, Zimbabwe. A discussion
among CITES members of possible
new action against ivory trafficking is to be
held in Nairobi, Kenya, early in 2000.
Easing the ivory sale ban brought
CITES policy closer to alignment with the
policies of the World Wildlife Fund, which
sees elephant ivory sales as central to funding
conservation through “sustainable use,” and
opposes a resumption of absolute prohibition.
“We have no evidence of poaching
attributable to the ivory sale,” Zimbabwean
director of national parks Willas Makombe
told the Johannesburg Star in early October.
But there were in fact a string of
poaching cases in recent months that appear to
have involved people hoping to pass off contraband
ivory as part of the legal stock.
Indeed, just a week earlier, the World
Wildlife Fund urged Thailand to crack down
on sales of ivory through hotel curio shops,
which are believed to be among the major
“fences” for poached ivory. WWF found ivory
for sale in 12 out of 18 hotel gift shops it surveyed
in Bangkok. The widespread availability
of allegedly poached ivory tends to discredit
claims that it is not a problem.
An ivory trafficking case of almost
the same magnitude as the one broken in
Dubai came to light on August 30 when two
North Korean diplomats were caught trying to
bootleg nearly 1,400 pounds of tusks out of
Kenya. According to Roger Dean DuMars of
the South China Morning Post, “The diplomats
have been caught in similar heists in
Moscow and Paris within the past two years,”
and are not operating alone.
“North Korean diplomats in Europe,
Africa, and Asia are regularly accused of
using their embassies as fronts to smuggle and
deal in drugs and other black market items,”
The Kenyan bust came a month after
the Kenyan Wildlife Service seized 45 pieces
of ivory from a cache in the town of Maralal,
the largest seizure in Kenya since 1988, and
about six weeks after ivory poachers killed a
ranger in Tsavo East National Park.
Tanzania also is battling resurgent
poaching, arresting 241 people for related
offenses in 1998 and confiscating 59 firearms,
among more than 2,000 total items of gear.
Indian elephants too are under growing
poaching pressure––which the Delhi High
Court hoped to ease with a March 11 verdict
affirming the confiscation of an ivory possession
permit from Art India, a company which
had allegedly collected about 330 pounds of
ivory figurines, toys, and jewelry from various
sources since November 1992. The ruling
preceded seizures of ivory from alleged illegal
traders in Mysore on April 13, Madikeri on
April 18, and again in Madikeri on June 26.
Ten people were arrested in connection with
the seizures, including a local politician.
There are an estimated 25,000 elephants
left in India––but just 1,500 males of
breeding age. In 1998 at least 107 Indian elephants
were poached for ivory, ten times the
level of poaching prior to the 1997 easing of
the CITES ivory trafficking ban.
The present price of an elephant tusk
is estimated at four times the average Indian
annual wage. That has prompted demands
from some directions that India should allow
legal culling of some sort. In March those
demands were stoked when Bibhab Kumar
Talukdar, who heads a nonprofit Nature Club
apparently aligned with WWF, and Kushal
Konwar Sharma, a professor at the College of
Veterinary Science in Guwahati, Assam,
insisted to reporters for The Week magazine
that they had seen rogue elephants smashing
humans against trees and then eating them.
There is no reliable record of an elephant
ever consuming flesh in any form.