The Elephant’s Armageddon: Part III


By guest writer Ron Thomson

THE GREAT ELEPHANT CENSUS (GEC) (Part One): Its faults and its foibles
The elephant population figures produced by Africa’s Great Elephant Census (2016) were just a list of numbers. The report did not record anything about the ecological management status of the elephant populations that were counted. For example, there was no information at all about the elephant carrying capacities of the habitats in which each population lived. So we have no idea which populations were SAFE, UNSAFE and/or EXCESSIVE.

This is a pity because a lot of people expended a lot of energy to produce the figures. But – whichever way you look at them – they are still just a bunch of numbers. And I lament the fact that “numbers” are seemingly all that matters in the present day and age! Certainly, whenever elephant numbers are up from previous counts – everybody rejoices. And they produce long faces when the numbers are “down”; and “poaching”- without any substantiation – is always blamed for any and all declines.

The census results indicate there were 352 271 elephants, ranging over 18 countries across Africa, in 2016. Nineteen countries were omitted from the census.  But, the scientists say that, statistically, the numbers counted represent 93 percent of Africa’s savannah elephants.  If that is so, then the total number of elephants in Africa now stands at 380 000. (An extra 28 000?)

The authors concluded that Africa’s savannah elephants had declined by 30 percent (equal to 144 000 elephants) between 2007 and 2014.  If these figures are true, this reflects an average annual net loss during that period of 20 571 per year; 56 per day; 2,3 per hour; or one every 26 minutes. The declines, the report concluded – without any substantiation – were “primarily due to poaching”. These facts paint a dismal picture at the start of the 21st Century, but let’s have a look at the whole story before we go ballistic.

“Poaching” was not defined in the report, and “the poachers” were not identified. To make any sense of what the report claimed, therefore, requires that we examine the history of Africa’s commercial elephant poaching pandemic.

During the 1970s and 1980s “the political elite” in Kenya were said to have been responsible for the reduction of elephant numbers in that country, from an estimated 275 000 (1970) to 20 000 (1989); the killing of ten thousand black rhinos; and the killing of thousands of several other species, such as zebra and colobus monkeys, for their skins.  Two village hunters, on one occasion, were arrested for having 26 000 colobus monkey skins in their possession. The day after their arrest they were released from prison when “official papers” (from the highest office in the land) were produced to indicate the hunters were in legal possession of the skins.

All the contraband was exported from Kenya’s east coast seaports directly to illegal markets in the Far East without any kind of CITES documentation; but with tacit presidential approval.

A similar tale emerges from Tanzania.  Between 1976 and 1986 the elephants of Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve were reduced from 110 000 to 55 000 (ref. Dr Rolf Baldus; confirmed 2017). And over a much longer period of time (1977 – 1993) Baldus claims that Tanzania’s elephant “poachers” reduced the overall elephant numbers, throughout Tanzania, from 365 000 to 53 000.   Baldus further reported:

The poaching had its roots in political and business circles in Tanzania, the villages bordering the SGR (Selous Game Reserve) and partly within the conservation system itself (i.e. government game rangers).

He goes on to say:

Village poachers and game scouts did the shooting, but ‘big people’ – politicians, civil servants, businessmen and even hunting operators – masterminded the slaughter.

In Zimbabwe and Zambia in the 1990s – similarly – the political elites of those countries were also involved in the slaughter of elephants and rhinos for their tusks and their horns.

I make mention of all these incidents to indicate a seemingly “politically acceptable” trend of massive elephant and rhino poaching events in East Africa, and south-central Africa, that were all orchestrated by the political elites and their cronies, during the latter three decades of the 20th Century.

All these events are “elephants in the room” that nobody, who values his life, talks about in Africa. Whistleblowers in Africa have a very short life expectancy! Yet everybody knows about these terrible events. And a great deal of this information, at the time, was reported in local and overseas newspapers. The involvement of the Kenyan president and his family – especially the First Lady Ngina Kenyatta – in the country’s poaching pandemic (1970s and 1980s) – was often, apparently, mentioned in the Kenyan parliament; and one individual who threatened to “expose it all” was murdered. And the British government knew all about what was happening.

Then, in the new millennium, the poaching started up all over again. Between 2008 and 2014 – 44 000 elephants were poached inside the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania under circumstances that were entirely orchestrated by (as before) members of that country’s political, social and business elite; including the army and police. There was no serious attempt by the government to stop the poaching; and a lot of the poachers – the people who pulled the triggers – were reported (by Tanzanian residents “in the know”) to have been given immunity from prosecution.

As happened in Kenya, all the contraband was exported from Tanzania’s seaports directly to illegal markets in the Far East without any kind of CITES documentation; but also, it would appear, with tacit presidential approval.

At about the same time as the Selous slaughter, “tens of thousands” of elephants were reportedly also removed from northern Mozambique under the auspices of this same government-elite class of people in that country.

These latter two sets of poached elephants – the 44 000 (in the Selous) and “several tens of thousands” in the Niassa Province of Mozambique, are included in the 144 000 elephants that were recorded as having been killed “by poachers” (between 2007 and 2014) in the Great Elephant Census (GEC) Report.

The term “poacher” is not defined in the GEC, so it is left to the reader’s imagination to believe just what he wants to believe. The massive weight of continuous animal rights propaganda over the years, however, has seemingly convinced the whole world that elephant poaching in Africa is all controlled and organised by a mysterious “Chinese Mafia”; and the killing is carried out by “greedy” village poachers. So, I must suppose that that is what most people believe – because it is a statement that has been repeated many, many times since CITES 1989, and rarely refuted.

It is a huge, mischievous and criminal distortion of the truth to attribute the 144 000 “poached” elephants that were recorded in the GEC report, to Africa’s “greedy” village hunters; to the so-called Far Eastern poaching “mafia”; and/or to any other criminal elements in general African society – unless you include within this group those members of the political elite who orchestrated the really BIG poaching events in Africa’s recent history. So, the inferences made in the GEC report – that the poaching must come to a stop if Africa’s elephants have any chance of being saved – is VERY and, in my opinion purposefully, misleading. I believe that if you want to point fingers at the culprits in Africa, several of the continent’s political elites should be named, shamed and held accountable. They are the ones who are most responsible for the great losses of elephants and rhinos that Africa has suffered during the last fifty years. The big question that comes out of the GEC report is: WHO do we have to pressure to stop the poaching?

THE whole world needs to be told who we should be fighting, if it is truly everybody’s intention to stop commercial elephant poaching in Africa! In my book, Africa’s political elite are more to blame for the decline in elephant and rhino numbers in Africa, than any other single group of people. And the biggest link to the demise of Africa’s elephants is bad governance.

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Andrew Wyatt, of Vitello Consulting, is a government affairs and policy consultant dedicated exclusively to the wildlife sector.

WyattP1“The debate regarding trade in antique ivory in the U.S. is highly charged and contentious. I specialize in articulating clear policy ideas and getting them in front of key decision makers. Please follow ‘The Last Word on Wildlife’ for insight and analysis particular to the 21st century wildlife sector. If you would like to discuss the potential advantages of creating a comprehensive business/government affairs strategy, or a more targeted issue campaign, please call or email me.” — Andrew Wyatt

©Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word on Wildlife, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word on Wildlife with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Material posted from guest writers is the sole intellectual property of the author. Please seek permission directly from the author prior to reproducing in whole or in part.

The Elephant’s Armageddon: Part II

top-bg-2By guest writer— Ron Thomson

I am going to jump in at the deep end and say that if world society carries on the way it is going at the moment, it is going to cause the extinction of the African elephant before the end of the current century. And the poachers are not the ones who are going to kill the species off. The supposed “do-gooders” in the Western World will achieve that milestone long before the poachers could ever do. Practically every elephant conservation proposal the developed world is trying to force on Africa will only exacerbate the elephant’s dire predicament. So – please – let’s consider the issues involved with an open mind and with some good common sense!

First of all, let me assure you that the elephant is NOT a so-called “endangered species” and it is NOT facing extinction. So don’t listen to the propaganda put out by the animal rights NGOs. They broadcast such emotional diatribe purely for the purpose of making money out of a gullible public. You must understand that the animal rights movement is a confidence industry which we will discuss in a later blog. Just remember, however, if you believe animal rights propaganda you have allowed yourself to be duped.

The so-called “endangered species” concept is a fallacy. Wild animals don’t organise themselves at the species level so the endangered “species” ideal has no application anywhere in the science of wildlife management.

A species can be defined as group of animals that share the same physical and behavioural characteristics (they look alike and they act alike) and which, when they breed, produce fertile offspring with the same physical and behavioural characteristic.

The common African Bush elephant – which is the main species we are concerned about – has 150 different populations in 37 countries across Africa. Each population – totally separate from any and all other populations – lives in its own unique habitat; and the environmental conditions that apply to each such population are unique to that population. Some populations live in montane forests; others in grasslands; others in grassland savannahs; others in various kinds of woodlands; others in thick bush; others in swamps; and yet others in deserts. Some occur in areas of high rainfall. Others live in areas of very low rainfall.

A population can be defined as a group of animals of the same species, the individuals of which interact with each other, in continuum, on a daily basis; and which breed only with other animals in the same group.

Some elephant populations in Africa are “SAFE”. This means they occur in good numbers, consistent with the carrying capacities of their habitats. Safe populations are healthy; their habitats are healthy; and they breed well. Such populations require “conservation” management which means they are able to sustain a high level of sustainable utilisation. They should be culled every year in numbers equivalent to the rate of their respective annual increments. This is necessary to make sure SAFE populations do not become “EXCESSIVE”. (See below).

Some populations are “UNSAFE”. They are low in number and not breeding well. Their numbers are declining and the reasons for these bad situations cannot be ascertained or reversed. These animals face possible local extinction. They require “preservation” management – protection from all harm.

Other populations are “EXCESSIVE”. This means their numbers are above (often grossly above) the carrying capacities of their habitats. Most excessive populations are breeding well – adding to the problem of over-population. Their habitats, however, have been trashed over the years and they continue to be degraded annually. Many such habitats are unrecognisable compared to what they looked like 50 years ago. The biological diversities of such habitats are deteriorating all the time; many have suffered the local extinction of both plant and animal species; and a lot more species are seriously threatened. If the numbers of elephants in such populations are not reduced in number – drastically and quickly – the game reserves that support them will become deserts. In many, desertification is already well advanced. Excessive populations require immediate population reduction management.

What I am trying to convey here is that the environmental pressures being exerted on Africa’s 150 different elephant populations are unique to each population. No two are the same; and they are sometimes chalk-and-cheese different. There is no “one size fits all” management application. So Africa’s 150 elephant populations need 150 different management strategies, each one custom-designed to fit the needs of each specific population.

Now we can discuss the “endangered species” concept. Just where, within this conundrum, can this idea fit into the elephant management equation? It can’t – anywhere. The very title – “endangered” – conveys the idea that each and every elephant population in Africa is UNSAFE; that it is declining; that it is not breeding well; and that it should be managed according to the “preservation management” principle ONLY. And preservation management requires that every single elephant should be protected from all harm. And that is clearly not what is required at all.

When the elephant was declared to be an “endangered species” at CITES 1979 – a decision which was pushed through with brutal force by every animal rights organisation in creation – the world actually imposed MIS-management on every SAFE and EXCESSIVE elephant population in Africa. And demanding the MIS-management of an animal species population, under any circumstances, is NOT in the best interests of the species concerned; nor of the habitats that support them; and also not in the interests of maintaining species diversity in their sanctuaries.

It is necessary to record here that most of the “elephant range states” at CITES in 1979 voted against having the elephant placed on the endangered species list (Appendix 1) that year, but their opinions were ignored. Surely the opinions of the elephant management experts who live in the range states in Africa – who know more about elephants and their management needs than anybody else – should have held more water than the opinions of the animal rights organisations that are based in Washington DC, London or Paris? But the animal rightists won the day on that occasion – and they have continued to push their luck at every CITES meeting ever since.

It is because of incidents like this that the animal rightist NGOs – and their fellow travellers in the powerful governments of the First World – are going to cause the demise of the African elephant in Africa.

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Question and answer with Ron Thomson and Andrew Wyatt

AW: Your article implies that African elephants are designated as “endangered species.” They are actually designated “vulnerable” by IUCN. Why is there so much confusion about the designation?
RT: Many in the public domain call elephants an “endangered species”, so that is the preception the public has and the public cannot understand how ANYONE can kill an “endangered species”.  Surely when a species is declared to be “endangered” its needs 100 protection? And governments don’t like opposing public perceptions!

AW: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designates African elephants as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, but not “endangered.” Why is there so much incongruity in the discussion?
RT: Discussion in the public domain with FWS officials, reveals they often speak of species (many species – including the African elephant) as being “endangered” – and they never deny any statement by anyone who proclaims ANY species to be “endangered” when it is not. Officials – including Barack Obama in the USA – regularly referred to elephants as being “endangered.”  I suspect they actually welcome the public’s mis-interpretation because it is easier for the officials to drive home their insistence that “their” extra-protection purpose needs radical acceptance.

AW: Why are some populations of elephants listed CITES Appendix I, implying endangered status?
RT: Every animal rights NGO delegate that attends CITES meetings – when talking about the elephant – infers that the convention is dealing with an “endangered species”.  And within the CITES debates (which are TOTALLY swamped by animal rightist delegates) they purposefully use no other term than “endangered” – which the media picks up and disseminates into the public domain . And that is, perhaps, understandable.  CITES, after all, is an acronym for “Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species“.   And when the elephant was placed on the Appendix 1 list of CITES, the media – all over the world – referred to the elephant as being “an endangered species” (which they picked up from the animal rights propaganda).  Furthermore, NOBODY corrected that interpretation – not the IUCN; not WWF; & not FWS.  That perception cannot now be shaken..  In the public mind – constantly reinforced in all animal rights propaganda – and by the media world-wide – the elephant IS “an endangered species.”

AW: Would you care to continue your clarification regarding the non-uniformity across NGO’s and government entities in referring to elephants as “endangered?”
RT: Sure, I will clarify – but understand that the media’s, the public’s and general governmental perceptions are now so heavily skewed that even my explanation may not be acceptable – even to you!  Many people/ organisations have different (their own) interpretations of what constitutes an “endangered species” – which adds to the confusion.  In the public mind, however, the term “endangered species” denotes or implies “facing extinction“.   And the media’s projection of “endangered species” in wildlife has a lot to with that.  So has the animal rightists’ propaganda – which uses the endangered species concept as its main means of stirring up public emotions (and makes them more fraudulently-acquired money than anything else).  If you take the trouble to examine every piece of animal rights propaganda that you are exposed to, you will quickly see that “EVERY LIVING THING” is classified by them as being “endangered”.

All this renders public acceptance of “REALITY” almost impossible – and the REALITY is that no species is “threatened with extinction” until its VERY LAST POPULATION is declining and the reasons for the decline cannot be arrested.  The northern white rhino is a good candidate for what represents a REAL endangered species – with only four individuals still alive (three females and one male – and the male is beyond breeding).  REALITY is that even official and august bodies like the IUCN, WWF and USF&WS TALKabout “endangered species”.  The USF&WS even enacts a law called the “Endangered Species Act” (ESA) – when, in fact, the concept of “endangered species” has no application at all within the general principles and practices of Wildlife Management (a.k.a. {eroneously} “CONSERVATION”) – except in those very rare examples such as the current sad status of the Northern White Rhino. So the USF&WS is guilty of perpetuating the myth, too.

All these official “acceptances” of the endangered species concept leads the public away for REALITY.  And this is NOT just a game of semantics.  I wish it were!  With respect to Africa’s elephants we are actually talking about the practical survival management of the species – the elephant; the survival of whole ecosystems (Africa’s national parks); and the survival of the bulk of Africa’ s current wildlife species diversity (plants AND animals).  The survival of all these things – depends not only on stopping the poaching, but ALSO (perhaps more-so, in the case of southern Africa) upon Africa’s EXCESSIVE elephant populations being drastically REDUCED in number. In southern Africa every single one of the elephant populations – HALF of today’s entire extant elephant numbers – fall into the category of being EXCESSIVE.  And they need to be urgently reduced in number (for the sake of the elephant; for the sake of Africa’s National Parks; and for the sake of the maintenance of Africa’s wildlife species diversity).  THIS is REALITY.

Now how is such a “best practice” management programme going to be possible when everybody in creation believes in the concept of “endangered species”.  If only people would start believing in the fact that wildlife cannot be “managed” at the species level; only at the population level; and that a species’ (ANY species) many populations comprise those that are SAFE, UNSAFE and EXCESSIVE, would the general public begin to understand the wisdom and principles of wildlife management.  And they have to understand that every single one of Africa’s elephant populations need to managed separately according to their individual environmental circumstances.  When the “endangered species” ideal is applied to the elephant in Africa it results in MIS-management – which is the last thing Africa needs.  It is the last thing that the elephant needs – the total protection of ALL populations of elephants on the entire continent irrespective of what their true population status is.

Everyone needs to be led into the very serious understanding that Africa’s national parks were set aside to preserve the integrity of the national parks’ biological diversities.  THAT is the parks’ Number ONE wildlife management objective.  And THAT should be everybody’s priority consideration! As much as I love Africa’s elephants, I love Africa’s biological diversity more.  The parks were NOT set aside for the uncontrolled proliferation of elephants – and the whole world needs to understand this.  In many of Africa’s national parks (especially in southern Africa) too many elephants are destroying the very reason why the national parks were set aside in the first place.   And explaining all THIS is the whole purpose of me sending those blogs to you in the first place.

It is very clear to me that the whole world is demanding of Africa that it maintains elephants in numbers that its national parks simply CANNOT sustainably support.  Excessive elephant populations cannot be maintained indefinitely.  Sooner rather than later, the park ecosystems will collapse.  And when they do crash the massive elephant herds we see in these game reserves today, will crash with them. And in one drought year, the world will lose tens of thousands of elephants – BECAUSE they have been “over-protected”.   And they will lose billions of plant and animal species BECAUSE world society has not allowed Africa’s national parks to be properly managed. The reality is that southern Africa is carrying far too many elephants already – and the effects of what amounts to terrible and prolonged mis-management are already becoming manifest.  South Africa’s Kruger National Park, for example, has lost MORE THAN 95 percent of its vitally important top canopy trees because it has been carrying far too many elephants for far too long; and the damage continues unabated. Even if you are not a biologist; not an ecologist; and not a qualified wildlife manager – but just an ordinary intelligent member of society – the ultimate disaster that looms must be obvious.

So, if the public really wants to save Africa’s elephants, I propose that – instead of creating a huge furore every time an elephant is killed by a hunter – or culled by a game ranger –  that the general public start petitions to raise funds for the purchase of extra land in Africa where elephants can be maintained in symbiotic harmony with Africa’s rural people.  Symbiotic harmony means the elephants will be “used” sustainably for the benefit of Africa’s rural communities – because THAT is the ONLY way to secure a future for elephant in Africa into posterity.

The Wrong Way to Protect Elephants

Reblogged from The New York Times.

Making legal trade illegal and turning good citizens into criminals will make it easier for FWS to make cases against Americans here at home, but it fails to address the hard work of catching poachers and real criminals that are determined to kill every living elephant. ~Andrew Wyatt

The New York Times | The Opinion Pages |OP-ED CONTRIBUTORS

27harris-master495THE year was 1862. Abraham Lincoln was in the White House. “Taps” was first sounded as a lights-out bugle call. And Steinway & Sons was building its first upright pianos in New York.

The space-saving design would help change the cultural face of America. After the Civil War, many middle-class families installed them in their parlors. The ability to play the piano was thought to be nearly as important to the marriage potential of single ladies as their skill in cooking and sewing, signaling a young woman’s gentility and culture.

The keys on those pianos were all fashioned from the ivory of African elephants. And that is why one of these uprights, the oldest one known to survive, in fact, is stuck in Japan.

The director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service recently issued an order prohibiting the commercial importation of all African elephant ivory into the United States. (Commercial imports had been allowed in some instances, including for certain antiques.)

The Obama administration is also planning to implement additional rules that will prohibit, with narrow exceptions, both the export of African elephant ivory and its unfettered trade within the United States.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has said that these new rules will help stop the slaughter of elephants. But we believe that unless demand for ivory in Asia is reduced — through aggressive education programs there, tougher enforcement against the illegal ivory trade and the creation of a legal raw ivory market — these new American regulations will merely cause the price to balloon and the black market to flourish, pushing up the profit potential of continued poaching.

In short, these new rules proposed by the Fish and Wildlife Service may well end up doing more harm than good to the African elephant.

Read more at The New York Times...



Reblogged from Conservation Magazine.

According to a NEW study, an over-increase in elephant density does not equate to increased eco-tourism, and could actually lead to a decrease in biodiversity. ~Andrew Wyatt

Image © Alexandra Lande | Shutterstock

Image © Alexandra Lande | Shutterstock

March 20, 2014 | Conservation This Week

If you have more elephants, they will come. That’s been the philosophy behind attracting tourists to wildlife reserves in South Africa. But this assumption is flawed, according to a new study in Ecological Applications. Increasing elephant density doesn’t translate to more ecotourism, and doing so could end up hurting the biodiversity that these parks are meant to protect.

Reserve managers depend on tourists for much-needed revenue. To keep visitors happy, managers often bring in more impressive animals such as elephants. But these charismatic creatures can damage ecosystems. For example, large numbers of elephants can knock down trees and reduce the number of plant species, which in turn can lower the diversity of animals.

The researchers studied five private reserves and an ecotourism operator in South Africa, where visitors can go on guided tours to spot animals. For each site, the team members found out how frequently tourists saw elephants in 2010. They also analyzed data on elephant populations and tourism in Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa from 1954 to 2011.

Read more at Conservation Magazine…

African Poaching Crisis: Elephants Slaughtered for Trinkets and Terrorism

Reblogged from the International Conservation Caucus Foundation (ICCF).

“Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, Co-Chair of the ICCF, weighs in on the African poaching crisis, the alarming links to terrorism, and how the the Conservation Reform Act might lend aid.” ~Andrew Wyatt


Editor’s note: Rob Portman, a Republican, is a U.S. senator from Ohio.

(CNN) — The African elephant, one of the world’s most majestic animals, is in danger. In the early 1900s, 5 million elephants roamed the African continent. Then the ivory trade drove them to the brink of extinction, with 90% of African elephants killed for the ivory in their tusks.

In 1989, the world reacted, imposing a ban on the international trade in ivory passed by the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Elephant populations stabilized. But today, driven by growing demand for ivory ornaments and carvings in Asia, particularly in China, elephant poaching has returned with a vengeance.

The largest slaughter in one year since the 1989 ban was passed happened in 2012, with up to 35,000 elephants killed. This adds up to nearly 100 a day. Tens of thousands are killed every year. Without action, the day may come when this magnificent creature is known only in history books.

Estimates say if elephants continue to be slaughtered at today’s rates, the creatures could be extinct in a decade.Not only do elephants die. The wildlife rangers who try to protect them from poachers are being killed.

The illicit trade in ivory — “white gold” — is a billion dollar industry, and because it is illegal, it tends to attract some very bad actors. It is blood ivory: Al-Shabaab, a wing of al Qaeda based in Africa that is responsible for continued instability in Somalia, is known to finance its operations through the poaching of elephants. Al-Shabaab raises an estimated $600,000 a month through the ivory trade. The Lord’s Resistance Army, another terrorist group infamous for forcing children to fight in its ranks, also engages in poaching and trafficking of elephant ivory.

 “Al-Shabaab raises an estimated $600,000 a month through the ivory trade.” ~Rob Portman

Stopping the ivory trade has become not only a matter of conservation but one of national security and international stability.

Last year, the United Nations issued a report warning that elephant poaching is the worst it has been in a decade, while ivory seizures are at their highest levels since 1989. Last summer, President Barack Obama issued an executive order recognizing that the poaching of protected species and the illicit trade in ivory has become an international crisis that the United States must take a leading role in combating.

Saving elephants and other threatened species is a cause that cuts across partisan lines and international boundaries. We all have a part to play.

It starts in our personal lives.

The ivory trade prospers because there is a demand for luxury goods fashioned from it. As consumers, we should never buy products made with ivory and should encourage others to be mindful that their purchases are not illegally sourced through trafficking. And we should continue to shine a spotlight on the problem of illegal poaching and the threat it poses to African elephants and other species.

There are actions our government can take, as well. As co-chairman of the U.S. Senate International Conservation Caucus, I have worked with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to educate members of Congress on these ongoing problems and introduce legislation that authorizes proven conservation programs and directs resources to the international effort to dismantle the machinery of illegal poaching.

The Conservation Reform Act is part of this effort. If passed, it would streamline and increase the effectiveness of our existing international conservation efforts. I am also working to reauthorize the Saving Vanishing Species Stamp, which raises funds for the protection of threatened animals and their habitat at no cost to the U.S. taxpayer.

Over the years, we have watched as the actions of a few shortsighted, malicious and greedy people have nearly destroyed whole species. If we act now, we can make sure that the African elephant doesn’t become another sad entry on a long list of animals we can never bring back.

Africa’s Anti-Poaching Problem

Reblogged from Foreign Affairs published by the Council on Foreign Relations.

“There is no doubt that commercial activity creates economic incentive to protect and conserve wildlife. What is not clear, is how this aggressive vision for an anti-poaching strategy actually works. Humanely ranching elephants and rhinos for ivory and rhino horn may not be possible at a rate that would satisfy current demand. However, this provocative article continues the conversation of how best to employ commercial conservation to it’s greatest advantage. I highly recommend reading this article if you are interested in real conservation in Africa.” ~Andrew Wyatt

How Wildlife Trade Bans Are Failing the Continent’s Animals
FEBRUARY 5, 2014
A White Rhino awaits buyers in a pen at the annual auction in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi national park, September 18, 2010. (Mike Hutchings / Courtesy Reuters)

Decades after more than 100 countries agreed to ban the rhinoceros horn trade in 1979, poachers are killing record numbers of the endangered species. In just 2013 alone, they slaughtered some 1,000 rhinos in South Africa, up from 668 in 2012. If the hunting continues at current rates, one of the conservation movement’s most famous mascots could be extinct within the next two decades. And rhinos are not alone. Many other animals — including elephants and tigers — are also facing the prospect of extinction, all in spite of long-standing trade bans.

In South Africa, police and national defense forces have become increasingly engaged in efforts to protect threatened wildlife, and the government has earmarked roughly $7 million in extra funding to ramp up security in its national parks. Yet poaching there has continued, just as it has throughout the continent. Last year alone, poachers killed a total of 22,000 elephants, the majority for tusks that were sold to feed rising demand in Asia.

Through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES), an international agreement among 179 countries, governments can vote to ban the trade of products from species threatened with extinction. But such trade bans are failing in large part because they have run into the same basic problem as the war on drugs. Prohibitions on trading wildlife products such as tusks and timber have ultimately made them more valuable. And criminal organizations have moved in and taken over the market, imposing high costs — through violence and corruption — on weak societies.

In some ways, this is an old story. As the American economist Thomas Schelling has argued, the United States’ prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s advantaged criminals by giving them “the same kind of protection that a tariff gives to a domestic monopoly.” As the demand for alcohol increased, prohibition guaranteed “the absence of competition from people who are unwilling to be criminal, and an advantage to those whose skill is evading the law.” Today, the United States spends an estimated $30 billion annually to combat the drug trade, yet illegal narcotics remain readily available on American streets.

Both the illegal wildlife and drug trades are now worth huge sums, the bulk of which ends up lining the pockets of criminal organizations, corrupt officials, and even terrorist groups. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the global policing organization Interpol, the illegal drug trade was worth an estimated $435 billion in 2013. Estimates suggest that the illicit wildlife trade, including logging and fishing, is worth around $130 billion — more than three times the size of Kenya’s entire GDP. And the profits have been substantial. Last year, Vixay Keosavang, a wildlife trader from Laos, sold rhino horn at $65,000 per kilo. He bought the horn in southern Africa for one-tenth of that price.

As the money has rolled in, poachers and smugglers have grown more sophisticated, investing in miniature armies. All across Africa, it is increasingly common for park rangers to skirmish with poachers. According to the charity Thin Green Line, poachers in Africa kill some 1,000 park rangers each year. And the fight is far from fair: The U.S. Congressional Research Service has reported that many poachers now use “night vision goggles, military-grade weapons, and helicopters.” By comparison, the rangers are often poorly equipped. And that makes trading in wildlife all the more attractive.


Conservation groups such as the World Wildlife Fund have long advocated for stiffer sentences and fines to deter poachers and traders. They are right that penalties could be tougher. Last year, an Irish court fined two traffickers just 500 euros ($676) for smuggling rhino horn worth 500,000 euros ($676,600). However, even high penalties do not necessarily deter all types of crime. Drug runners can face the death penalty in Southeast Asia, yet a seemingly endless stream of impoverished people sign up to act as drug mules anyway.

The appetite for illegal wildlife goods, meanwhile, shows no signs of abating. Ever since Asia’s economies took off in the 1990s, demand has soared. The prices of such items as rhino horns have followed, rising from roughly $1,000 per kilo in 1990 to around $65,000 per kilo today. Many Asian consumers believe that when used as a medicine, the horns can help cure cancer and detoxify the body. It does not matter how scientifically dubious such claims may be; they are simply a matter of faith. Just as drug addicts will go to any length for a fix, no matter the cost, those who believe that rhino horn can cure cancer will go to nearly any length to get their medicine. Never mind that such horns are made of the same material as human toenails.

Many buyers in Asia are motivated by prestige as well. In Vietnam and elsewhere, serving bush meat caught in the wild is a status symbol — as is owning elephant tusks, shahtoosh shawls made from endangered Tibetan antelope, and live orangutans as household pets. And such goods derive much of their appeal from being scarce and expensive — making demand for them insensitive to price hikes.

Outright bans, then, are not the answer. For this reason, the South African government plans to propose lifting the ban on trading rhino horn at the next CITES meeting in 2016. South African officials argue that a legal trade would take profits away from criminal syndicates. Just as taxes on cigarettes fund education and health programs in the United States, similar levies would also provide ample funds for campaigns to combat poaching and reduce demand. Meanwhile, regular de-horning of the animals would increase the global horn supply, lowering prices and the attraction of poaching. Rhinos produce nearly one kilogram of horn each year, which can easily be harvested through a simple veterinary procedure. Farming the animals ethically, moreover, would allow consumers to demand horn products from sustainably managed sources.

To legalize the rhino trade, South Africa will need a two-thirds majority among CITES members. It can expect to run into stiff opposition from a group that will likely include the United States, Kenya, and a number of European countries. Animal welfare groups will also push hard against legalization. That said, CITES already permits the trading of live rhinos and some limited hunting. In January, the Dallas Safari Club auctioned the right to hunt an old rhino in Namibia for $350,000. (One bidder withdrew his offer of $1 million — money that could have gone toward protecting rhinos — after receiving a death threat from an animal welfare extremist.) Such hunting fees can provide a critical source of revenue; in Namibia, they finance one-third of the government’s wildlife protection budget.

Peru embarked on a similar legalization process in 1979. To save the vicuña — a camelid that resembles a small llama — from extinction at the hands of hunters who prized its fine wool, the Peruvian government gave local communities the right to shear and market the animal’s wool. Now local herders protect the animals and also earn money from sale of their wool. Since then, the country’s vicuña population has grown from 5,000 animals — on the verge of extinction — to more than 200,000 today. CITES approved the policy in 1994.

Such a process of legalization, however, would not necessarily be a magic bullet. For a legal trade to work, governments would have to enforce a tight system of export permits and harvest quotas. Policing would still be needed to protect animals and forests. The success of a legal trade would also hinge on animal reproductive rates and the level of poverty in rural areas where the incentives to poach are high. But policymakers should heed the lessons of the drug wars. Bans fail because borders remain porous and officials corrupt. There is no wall high enough to counteract enormous financial rewards for breaking the rules to feed a voracious market.

Like the drug wars, restrictions on the animal trade reflect not only policy positions but also certain moral beliefs. Yet moralizing conservation organizations are typically based in wealthy countries and overlook the huge financial burdens that enforcement imposes on poor countries with already scarce resources. Such groups also minimize the potential benefits of taxing the wildlife trade, in the form of precious funds that would otherwise go to criminal outfits. Individual countries, then, will also have to make some informed decisions on their own. They would do well to consider what the United States has achieved in its war on drugs — now in its fourth decade.