Elephant Now Safe, Are People?

Elephant Now Safe, Are People?

CITES bans ivory sales.
CITES bans ivory sales.
Elephant are safe for the moment, but what about the people they’re trampling?

The CITES convention in Doha yesterday strongly rejected Tanzania and Zambia’s petition for a one-off sale of warehoused ivory. I think that’s the right decision, but will others step up to protect ordinary citizens?

(And note that the Obama administration became a pivotal force in denying the Zambia and Tanzanian petitions. This after months of silence on the issue.)

In Nairobi where I currently am staying between two safaris, the Kenyan media is jubilant. It was a page one story in Nairobi’s main newspaper, the Daily Nation. “Our elephants are safe, for now” was the story’s headline.

In Tanzania there are rumblings that the country “should take things into its own hands” and the tired refrain that the outside world is meddling in Tanzanian affairs.

“Should this meeting fail to consider this proposal, we run the risk of enhancing hostility against elephants by our local community especially where human-elephant conflicts are prevalent. More elephants will be killed,” Tanzania’s tourism minister, Shamsa Mwangunga said to the convention.

Bad argument, but Shamsa has a history of pretty bad arguments.

The argument that won the day was unequivocal: the results of CITES allowing two one-off sales in 1999 and 2008 are clearly documented as being followed by increased periods of poaching. And despite the substantial increase in elephant populations, elephant poaching this year throughout East Africa is the highest in years.

More stunning even was a report by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring group, released just last week that claimed Tanzania has been involved – at the government level – with the increased illegal ivory trade. That was a body blow to Shamsa.

So congratulations all around to those who fought the battle, and enormous relief that the U.S. came out of its cloak of secrecy definitely on the Kenyan side. But don’t forget, the human-elephant conflict is increasing as elephant populations increase, and that’s a problem that also needs urgent attention.