The Botswana Summit – A Mad Dash to Save the African Elephant
Adam Cruise
11 Dec 2013

Gaborone, Botswana – The first ever summit focusing exclusively on the escalating illicit trade of African elephant ivory convened on the 2nd and 3rd December in Gaborone, Botswana by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) together with the financial support of the UK Department for Environment, the German Government, the US Agency for International Development, the African Development Bank and the World Bank. The Summit included representatives of key countries along the ivory trade chain including elephant range states Botswana, Gabon, Kenya, Niger and Zambia; ivory transit states Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia as well as the two primary ivory destination states, China and Thailand.

The highest levels of poaching and illegal ivory trade in 16 years were recorded in 2011 and 2012 and are set to reach even higher levels for 2013. Eighteen large-scale seizures involving over 40 tons have been recorded this year, the greatest quantity of ivory seized over the quarter of a century. Poverty and corruption in Africa, as well as an exploding demand for ivory in China are the principle drivers of poaching and the illegal ivory trade.

“Our window of opportunity to tackle the growing illegal ivory trade is closing and if we do not stem the tide, future generations will condemn our unwillingness to act,” says Ian Khama, President of the Republic of Botswana. “Now is the time for Africa and Asia to join forces to protect this universally valued and much needed species.”

One of the 14 measures the delegates committed to involves classifying wildlife trafficking as a “serious crime”. This will unlock international law enforcement cooperation provided under the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, including mutual legal assistance, asset seizure and forfeiture, extradition and other tools to hold criminals accountable for wildlife crime.

Other measures agreed include engaging communities living with elephants in their conservation, strengthening national laws to secure maximum wildlife crime sentences, mobilizing financial and technical resources to combat wildlife crime and reducing demand for illegal ivory.

“We are very pleased with the result of the Summit, especially as it involves some of the most important countries along the illegal ivory value chain,” says IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefèvre. “We hope that these outcomes will go beyond the Summit’s focus on African Elephants and boost broader efforts to combat illegal wildlife trade in other species which have been threatened by it, such as rhinos and pangolins.”

However, many analysts and conservationists are unconvinced that the Summit will produce beneficial results. Mary Rice of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) believes the measures have not gone far enough to stem the trade.

“A complete ban on all trade in ivory must be adopted at the national level and sustained at the international level,” she argues. “Further, such bans must be effectively implemented to reduce and eventually eliminate demand for such products.”

Currently, trade in ivory is allowed according to Resolution 10.10 set out by the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES). According to CITES the only reason there has been a spike in poaching is due to bad management of the ivory chain states combating illegal trade.

Colin Bell, co-founder of Wilderness Safaris one of Africa’s largest safari companies, says the CITES resolution is contradictory: “We must stop sending mixed messages to Asia. So long as we send out messages that it is okay to consume ivory, Asians will keep consuming the products in greater and greater quantities”. After a tour of the Asian ivory chain states he said the common response to the CITES resolution allowing the controlled trade in ivory was “how can you, on the one hand, say your wildlife is in peril and on the other you still allow people to kill them?’

Furthermore, Francis Garrard of the Conservation Action Trust, an organization that has been closely monitoring the escalating African elephant crisis, notes that only six of the thirty attending nations have signed the Urgent Measures Agreement, the rest have taken the draft back to their own countries for approval by their leaders. That fact, Garrard states, means it may still be an awful long time before the measures are implemented, if at all.’ Garrard also notes that many key ivory chain states are notoriously poor in implementing legislation and more often than not they merely pay lip service to the elephant crisis without any desire to action.

It appears, therefore, that while great strides to protect the African elephant were agreed upon at the Summit in Botswana, the implementation thereof remains to be seen. Also, despite these measures, the view of many ecologists, conservation analysts and commentators including this writer, remain convinced that the slaughter of elephants will continue unabated unless a complete ban on ivory is enforced.