Ivory Ends

Ivory Ends

Only ivory can be so minutely and intricately carved yet remain so tough and durable.
Only ivory can be so minutely and intricately carved yet remain so tough and durable.
There may still be too many elephants in East Africa, but Tanzania is acting so irresponsibly with regards to increased poaching that the scales may soon tip.

This week a group of environmental organizations led by the EIA petitioned the U.S. government to withhold aid from Tanzania until elephant poaching abates.

It’s unlikely that the appeal directed to Secretary of State John Kerry will be seriously considered. Tanzania is on the front-line of the Obama administration’s war on terror, and the “elephant problem” is considered incapable of trumping “homeland security.”

The flaw in this reasoning is simplistic and ultimately fails because our homeland security policy with regards to terrorism is failing.

The explanations for Tanzania’s “elephant problem” also reveal why the country is so incredibly corrupt, why it has grossly mismanaged its treasure of natural resources including oil and gold, and why its powerful oligarchy can with abandon relocate thousands of Maasai to appease a few Dubai hunters.

Recently Dick Cheney agreed that enhanced interrogation techniques were a means to an end and were justified.

Facilitating if not outright supporting Tanzania’s corruption is also a means to an end that the Obama administration apparently feels is distant enough from public understanding to be acceptable.

I’ve often written that the elephant poaching problem is serious but exaggerated. Increasingly this year, though, the situation has grown more troubling. I hesitate to cite specific numbers, because they’re all over the place.

The EIA report looks sound to me, but I’m subsequently infuriated that they introduce it on their website with an ITN video that grossly misstates acceptable numbers. I just wish for once that these good environmental organizations working to save elephants would be more scientific and less evangelical.

London’s Guardian newspaper is probably the best resource in the world for accurate news on current elephant poaching. The Guardian contends that “Chinese demand for ivory is devastating Tanzania’s elephant.”

I agree, but what is missing from the hysteria is the fact that the growing development of Africa has enormously constrained elephant habitat in just the last ten years: not just national parks, but more importantly the vast areas peripheral to the national parks as well as the quasi protected corridors that connect distantly separately massive wildernesses to allow for elephant migrations.

These “corridors” and “donut edges” are often private land or land in trust, and demands for their development have grown exponentially. Farming, mining as well as simple village growth now impinge on what was only a short time ago elephant bush.

The tension between the needs of a growing and developing human population with the enormous amounts of land required for wild elephants is at the highest ever.

Until that tension is squarely addressed, corrupt officials will play god. Local communities engaged in ivory poaching will be given a pass, since the government is inept or incapable of giving them work, instead.

This is the real problem. Distant foreigners’ hearts may break when pictures of poached elephants appear on their TV screen. The world should continue to encourage China’s incremental movements to change a thousand-year culture that covets ivory as no other collectable.

And as the Guardian brilliantly pointed out, the disconnect between westerners’ campaign to stop endangered animal poaching and their allowance that these same animals may be legally hunted and harvested, has to be closed.

So the problem is not as simple as hysteria presents, but the problem is getting worse. It may not be the extinction of elephants that looms any more likely than the end of enough larger wild areas to support families of such a large wild animal in East Africa.

For the first time in my opinion, that is a plausible claim. Whatever the remedies, they certainly do not include ends-justify-means tests of what’s right to do.