“The European Commission’s proposed ban on international trade in ivory will be a disaster for those African communities who rely on wildlife for food and job security” according to a joint statement of the South Africa headquartered African Community Conservationists (ACC) and the Los Angeles-based Ivory Education Institute (IEI) issued last weekend.
The statement also notes: “A ban on international trade in ivory, supposedly to protect elephant herds in danger, ignores these facts on the ground:
1. There is an elephant overpopulation challenge in Southern Africa. Big herds have overrun/exceeded the carrying capacity of their habitats in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. This has created a real animal well-being crisis in those areas where populations have grown for years unfettered by any controls — natural or manmade.
2. In the absence of Covid-19 curtailed tourism, money for food, medicine, and other necessities for native populations who live among Southern Africa’s wild animals is very tight.
3. Money to support rural communities and conservation objectives, however, would be readily available if the sale of ivory (and rhino-horn) stockpiles were put into a controlled worldwide marketplace.”
The statement made some other direct claims that have been talked about but never actually said in public documents. Those claims are being revealed to the public for the first time here: “If the European Commission continues with its plan to ban ivory trade within its jurisdiction, it would be perpetuating the historically racist attitudes of Europeans toward black Africans.
That attitude plays out in how Africa has managed its wildlife, in the policies of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora) and in the programmes promulgated by the superpowers that fund international wildlife policy.” The joint statement points out that ivory is one of the oldest, most durable, and intrinsically beautiful materials for artistic expression, historic reflection, and practical needs. Its value to current generations is no less important than its value to the people of Biblical times.
The statement then goes on to state: “To alter man’s relationship to this material [ivory] now, in order to pander to the political ambitions, financial needs, and occupational interests of the current crop of white, Western animal rights groups will result in a denial of the national sovereignty of African nations. For Africans to accede to the demands of white, Western animal rights groups becomes a reflection of the greed, selfishness, and shortsightedness of some of Africa’s more corruptible leadership.”
The ACC and IEI presented the following damning list of what’s wrong with the European Commission’s proposal and why it must be opposed and condemned in the strongest possible terms:
It perpetuates the arrogant attitudes of pre-colonial times when white Europeans colonised Africa to foster their “superior” ideas about commerce, Christianity and civilisation. l It reinforces the uncompromising racist ideas of colonial days when black Africans were not considered responsible or capable enough to manage their own wild animal and plant resources in ways that preserve these assets for Western interests.
It builds on the reason that CITES was created by the animal rights groups more than 45 years ago — to provide a Western-oriented watchdog over the actions of the newly independent African nations to ensure that their wildlife resources were being cared for in ways that met the emotional needs and anti-wildlife use and trade ideas of Western people.
It limits Africa’s ability to conserve its wildlife in a balanced and sustainable manner because it must conform to CITES rules and regulations that tend to perpetuate the “hands-off” preferences of animal rights groups. These groups now dominate the non-governmental organisations as well as many Western governments in the wildlife sphere.
It ignores the fact that when African communities don’t benefit from wildlife, they see no reason to protect it. When this happens, conservation programmes evaporate and both wildlife and habitat are threatened.
It offers no scientific proof or statistical evidence to the claim that trade in historic ivory objects created for scientific, practical, decorative or aesthetic purposes triggers increased demand for modern pieces, adding to the unrestricted slaughter of endangered sources of ivory.
It ignores the fact that rural communities from wildlife-rich and elephant-overpopulated Southern African countries are fiercely opposed to the proposed ban. For instance, South Africa’s Makuya Community of Limpopo Province announced its intention to fight the “Mother of All Battles” in the International Court of Justice, the UN General Assembly and CITES to protect and enhance the ivory trade.
Because the European Commission’s position is based on the quicksand of emotion, all Western nations refuse to recognise that raw and worked ivory comes from multiple sources, not just endangered elephants. Ivory arises from naturally occurring elephant deaths and the purposeful culling of elephants, walruses, warthogs, boar, and hippopotami. As a result of the legal accumulation of ivory and a reasonably predictable annual replacement stream, ivory supplies could be consistently released into a controlled market to meet a demand regulated by market-determined prices.
Once a regular commodity trading market for ivory is established around a reasonably certain supply and a reasonably predictable demand, prices would stabilise at a level that would make the high cost of bringing poached material to the market too expensive. The criminals would look for something else to support their activities.
In fact, other ivory trade bans have failed to stop elephant poaching and illegal ivory trade. Bans have never saved a single elephant while ironically contributing to an increase in ivory trading and poaching.
The IEI separately noted and the ACC concurred with this statement: “Governmental restrictions have never been successful in controlling supply and demand for scarce or, desirable products. On the contrary, the higher the demand and the more desirable a product, the more active the ensuing black market has always become in the face of governmental restrictions.”
The IEI statement added: “Hanging pickpockets did not stop a spate of pickpocketing occurring among those gathered to watch the mass hangings of pickpockets in London; the flow of alcohol did not end in the United States despite its Constitutional-level prohibition; the war on drugs and zero-tolerance for illegal substances did not end the use or abuse of dangerous chemicals in America.”
The ACC and IEI Joint Statement concludes: “Given these facts from the American experience and the current reality that 45-years of restricting ivory use has failed to stop elephant poaching, why would anyone favouring the European Commission’s ivory ban think things will turn out differently? Albert Einstein is credited with the thought that only the insane keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result. The European Commission’s proposal is just that: INSANE.”
About the writer: Emmanuel Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning independent environmental journalist who writes extensively on environment and development issues