A paper published last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research in the U.S.A. holds unequivocally that permitting a legal trade in some wildlife species will be those species’ undoing, proclaiming that the notorious once-off legal sale of ivory in 2008 by Botswana, Namibia, South African and Zimbabwe actually triggered an increase in poaching.
The authors of the report, “Does Legalization Reduce Black Market Activity? Evidence from a Global Ivory Experiment and Elephant Poaching Data,” Solomon Hsiang and Nitin Sekar, are both Ivy League graduates with significant experience in the environmental and wildlife fields of study.
Examining the correlation between the legal ivory trade and the rise in the illegal ivory trade the authors state:
“We find that a singular legal ivory sale corresponds with an abrupt, significant, permanent, robust, and geographically widespread increase in the production of illegal ivory through elephant poaching, with a corresponding 2009 increase in seizure of raw ivory contraband leaving African countries. The sudden 2008 increase in poaching does not correspond with any abrupt and systemic change in China’s or Japan’s affluence of influence in elephant range states, as measured by numerous covariates.”
Namibia and Zimbabwe have tabled proposals at the upcoming CITES CoP17 conference in Johannesburg in September 2016 to be permitted to trade in ivory despite the devastation this will wreak on all elephant populations.
If this isn’t condemnation enough the recently published, first ever UNODC World Wildlife Report says: “… it appears a large share of the illegally acquired wildlife is ultimately sold in a legal market. By introducing illegal products into licit markets, traffickers have access to a much broader pool of potential buyers.”
Hsiang and Sekar put it this way: “Our findings demonstrate that partial legalization of a banned good can increase illegal production of the good because the existence of white markets may influence the nature of black markets. Our findings are likely to extend to markets structurally similar to ivory markets, such as those for products from other slow-growing, slow-breeding, or low-population density species like rhinoceroses and tigers.”
Legal trade clearly provides a mantle for the illegal trade, with ruinous consequences for the continent’s wildlife. Namibia and Zimbabwe’s proposal do not auger well for Africa’s Elephants.