A total ban on ivory would be disastrous for elephants. Better to legalise it
A ranger from the Kenya Wildlife Service stands guard as pyres of ivory are set on fire in April this year. Photograph: Ben Curtis/AP
The iron law of the market is that you do not stifle demand by trying to stifle supply. It applies to drugs. It applies to alcohol. It applies to sex. It applies to ivory. For a generation, an international bureaucracy of UN officials and NGOs has been trying to stamp out ivory supply in Africa, much as it has been trying to stamp out cocaine supply in Latin America. All this does is increase price.
For animals and for many people in countries across Africa, this has been disastrous. Small armies have been recruited, millions squandered and poachers hunted down. Local people have had to watch their gold dust – rhino horn is now more valuable per ounce than gold – burned in front of them, to make westerners feel good. A wholly ludicrous ban is imposed on ivory antiques. Yet poaching is said to be at an all-time high, driven by such publicity stunts as last April’s Kenyan bonfire of £70m of seized ivory, supposedly to “raise awareness”.
Such destruction of value merely encourages dealers in East Asia to stockpile, thus increasing the incentive to poach. If we actually want to render the rhinoceros and the elephant extinct – which given their popularity in safari parks and zoos is unlikely – policy is bang on course.
It would be nice for all of us if nobody believed rare animal products were good for their health. Demand in Japan is declining, but the market in China and Vietnam remains massive. Attempts are being made to farm the relevant species domestically. Rhinos, bears and two-thirds of all extant tigers are being farmed in China, but this cannot keep up with demand for ivory.
Big-game hunting licences are for sale in parts of Africa, but people who live in those areas are denied the much bigger return from the ivory. As a result, hunting licences in southern Africa, where elephants are still plentiful, are used for covert ivory supplies. Meanwhile farmers are told they must not kill elephants, but nor are they recompensed for the damage done by the animals to their crops. What would Wiltshire farmers say if told to allow mammoths to roam their fields because people in Africa were worried they might become extinct?
Shifting to a legal market in ivory would be painful – as with drugs it would appear to reward criminals. But allowing people in Africa to benefit from protecting endangered species is the only way to secure the future of those species. The concept of “the wild” is ever shrinking. If we try to deny poor countries the right to husband the produce of their land – as we do cows and sheep – rather than encourage them to sensible and profitable conservation, we impose costs on them, and encourage them to migrate to our countries, where we have long since got rid of elephants.
The best way to preserve these glorious animals is not to give their custodians a vested interest in poaching. The fact that ivory policy is being driven by the British royal family and well-heeled American lobbyists does not make it right. It is wrong, and grows more disastrous with every passing year.
Mr. Jenkins makes some interesting points, but I have a problem with his argument. Alcohol and heroin are not the same as sex workers or elephants. (Or tigers or rhinos)
The first are substances, the second are living things. Do we really want to farm tigers or elephants? Does Mr. Jenkins know anything about the horrendous conditions in which commodity animals are raised? Has he seen the facilities that farm bears for bile? Does he equate feedlots for rhinos with "saving the species"?
"Wildlife is like a herd of cattle," says du Toit, and farmers "will get benefits" if they manage and conserve local wildlife species. This "horns and thorns" approach gives farmers an opportunity to be paid for the ecosystem services they provide through more sustainable farming practices-including protecting wildlife, conserving water, preventing deforestation, and sequestering carbon in the soil. The solution is to help farmers practice agriculture "in appropriate areas, using appropriate practices."
What's needed, according to du Toit, is more "landscape-level planning" that takes into account the needs of wildlife, the environment, and farming communities. Rather than relying on development agencies and governments to decide where cattle fences should go or where farmers should plant their crops, local communities and stakeholders need to be part of the process.
Development aid, says du Toit, should follow what local stakeholders need and perceive, not the other way around. "We need to trust people on the ground, rather than just planning for them."
More locally based partnership arrangements, such as the Laikipia Wildlife Forum developed in Kenya, can help both farmers and wildlife survive. The Forum has united the community, from smallholder farmers to tourism ventures, in the fight to preserve wildlife and manage natural resources, helping to improve local livelihoods."
This is all good stuff, but the amount of ivory and/rhino horn that can be sustainably harvested in this context will not meet the current market demand.
Education is helpful, teaching people about loss of species is key. And in the case of ivory, to use synthetic or other replacement materials to help reduce the demand.
We are in a race with time to keep viable wild populations of many animals. Human beings are endangered nowhere. Killing poachers is not ideal, but then again, there must be deterrents.
Attitudes are changing in the young. Awareness is slowly improving. Movements and groups like the Masai Lion Guardians
are changing the way cultural systems view and deal with animals that are at risk. These kind of programs and the awareness they spread can help people turn away from the idea of animals as being simply there for human exploitation.
Western interest in protecting lions, elephants and rhinos is not about failure to value African farmers, any more than interest in protecting tigers carries a lack of value for Indian, Ukrainian, Russian, or Chinese people. But as Danielle Nierenberg says, "Wildlife conservation and sustainable farming practices are becoming increasing prevalent across sub-Saharan Africa. Yet efforts to preserve elephants, rhinos, and other wildlife are difficult in countries plagued by political unrest and conflict."
Western countries, in general, have more money. Why should people there be criticized for wanting to help in conservation efforts abroad? We are all denizens of this increasingly crowded planet. We have a lot to think about - controlling our own species' population, our exploitation of the planet, and showing a respect and reverence for the other species we share it with.