For elephants sake – let’s get our act together

Published March 22nd, 2010 - 12:34 GMT

The elephant issue remains central to CITES though, unfortunately, the emotiveness of the ivory debate has not dissipated and the divisions are as deep now as at any time in the past.  IUCN is concerned, that much of this may be diverting efforts from the real issues and what must really be done to reduce the impact of illegal killing on Africa’s elephants.

It would be a more positive step forward to use the considerable energies of the Parties in a constructive manner in dealing with the issues at hand and not in a divisive manner. To this end, IUCN encourages the Parties to step back from the outcomes of decisions taken on the  proposals before this Conference of the Parties and take a holistic look at the situation and the future prospects for this species.
“Although we currently do not have unequivocal answers to all the questions, it’s true to say that we do now have a greatly improved understanding of the current situation on the ground, the ivory trade dynamics facing the species across its range and the market drivers behind this trade,” says Dr. Holly Dublin, Chair of IUCN’s SSC African Elephant Specialist Group.

Africa’s elephants are being exposed to different circumstances in different parts of their range. Because of these very real differences, trying to manage to the lowest common denominator ends up being unsatisfactory all round; thereby feeding the division because different countries are faced with radically different management challenges. In most countries, former elephant range has been drastically reduced by land conversion in the face of rapid human population growth and conflict between people and elephants presents an ever-growing problem to management authorities.

It comes as no surprise that while elephant populations continue to show significant growth in some countries, others, particularly those in the Congo Basin of Central Africa, give cause for grave concern.  Elephants are being killed illegally and illegal ivory, in significant amounts, is moving off the continent.

“Time and again reports of the Secretariat with regard to the implementation of the Action plan for the control of trade in elephant ivory demonstrate worryingly little progress on what we know to be two of the most important factors in this dynamic – that unregulated domestic markets provide a ready flow of ivory to the illicit market and that large-scale syndicated operations are on the increase,” adds Dublin.

Just as it is incumbent on those African countries cited in Decision 13.26 of the Action Plan mentioned above to do what they can to close these loopholes, we feel it is incumbent on the consuming and entrepot countries, to contribute as well. Without unprecedented actions from both sides acting independently and in concert, the future for elephants subjected to such pressures does, indeed, look bleak.

“IUCN must admit its frustration with the current situation and we would urge the Parties to rise above these divisive and distracting stalemates in favour of more decisive action on the known problems facing African elephants in many parts of their range,” says Sue Mainka, Head of IUCN’s delegation to CITES. “We stand ready to assist, as we always have, in processes and engagements that will move us towards positive outcomes for the species.”

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