Since 2008, elephants have been slaughtered in record numbers, even after the ivory trade was made largely illegal in 1989. Can this trend be reversed? Thank you for joining me on the twenty-fourth episode of The LAVA Spurt, The Regulate Elephants Like Cows Edition.

Over the holiday weekend, I watched a documentary on Netflix called The Ivory Game. The basic premise of the show was the global ivory trade and how to stop it in order to save the elephants. It was a well-produced documentary done by and with well-meaning individuals who want to save elephants from extinction. Unfortunately for the elephants, well-meaning attempts often result in the opposite of the desired effect.

Essentially, the makers of the documentary and everyone interviewed in it believed that the only way to save these magnificent creatures is to make the ivory trade illegal around the world and to destroy the world's stockpile of ivory. Because, you know, that worked so well with drugs. I am not telling you, my listeners, anything new when I tell you that prohibition does not remove the desire to own the product, nor does it remove the product. As a matter of a fact, in many cases, prohibition increases the desire for the product. It does, however, in most cases, lower the supply. What happens when you have a heightened demand and a lowered supply? Of course, prices skyrocket, which makes the procurement of that product very valuable and worth taking massive risks in order to get your hands on it.

Interestingly enough, ivory sales are illegal in in most parts of the world and have been since 1989. However, many countries like the US, UK, and China still allowed for domestic ivory trading if it is in the form of antiques. This all changed very recently, in September of this year, at the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress. Jesus, what a mouthful. At this congress, with the backing of 217 countries, passed a motion to close that domestic trade. The motion holds no legal power, and several countries argued against the motion, including Japan, Namibia, and South Africa, making it clear they would not be shutting down their domestic trade.

It was estimated in 2014 that poachers are slaughtering up to 35,000 of the estimated 500,000 African elephants every year for their tusks. This has since slowed as Chinese investors have shifted from commodities back to stocks and property as the economy has improved after the 2008 to 2012 problems. Interestingly, the improvement in the economy also had a significant impact on the price of raw ivory, cutting the price in half or more as demand went down. However, there is still a very vibrant black market in ivory in many countries. And, it's still very easy to purchase illegal ivory online.

So, what are the solutions to this epidemic of elephant slaughters?

 

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Since 2008, elephants have been slaughtered in record numbers since 2008, even after the ivory trade was made largely illegal in 1989. Can this trend be reversed? Thank you for joining me on the twenty-fourth episode of The LAVA Spurt, The Regulate Elephants Like Cows Edition.

Over the holiday weekend, I watched a documentary on Netflix called The Ivory Game. The basic premise of the show was the global ivory trade and how to stop it in order to save the elephants. It was a well-produced documentary done by and with well-meaning individuals who want to save elephants from extinction. Unfortunately for the elephants, well-meaning attempts often result in the opposite of the desired effect.

Essentially, the makers of the documentary and everyone interviewed in it believed that the only way to save these magnificent creatures is to make the ivory trade illegal around the world and to destroy the world's stockpile of ivory. Because, you know, that worked so well with drugs. I am not telling you, my listeners, anything new when I tell you that prohibition does not remove the desire to own the product, nor does it remove the product. As a matter of a fact, in many cases, prohibition increases the desire for the product. It does, however, in most cases, lower the supply. What happens when you have a heightened demand and a lowered supply? Of course, prices skyrocket, which makes the procurement of that product very valuable and worth taking massive risks in order to get your hands on it.

Interestingly enough, ivory sales are illegal in in most parts of the world and have been since 1989. However, many countries like the US, UK, and China still allowed for domestic ivory trading if it is in the form of antiques. This all changed very recently, in September of this year, at the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress. Jesus, what a mouthful. At this congress, with the backing of 217 countries, passed a motion to close that domestic trade. The motion holds no legal power, and several countries argued against the motion, including Japan, Namibia, and South Africa, making it clear they would not be shutting down their domestic trade.

It was estimated in 2014 that poachers are slaughtering up to 35,000 of the estimated 500,000 African elephants every year for their tusks. This has since slowed as Chinese investors have shifted from commodities back to stocks and property as the economy has improved after the 2008 to 2012 problems. Interestingly, the improvement in the economy also had a significant impact on the price of raw ivory, cutting the price in half or more as demand went down. However, there is still a very vibrant black market in ivory in many countries. And, it's still very easy to purchase illegal ivory online.

So, what are the solutions to this epidemic of elephant slaughters? As I was watching the documentary, I couldn't help but think about the huge difference in the way we treat elephants and cows. There are approximately 1.3 to 1.5 billion cows in the world today. Yes, I said billion with a B. There are around half a million with an m elephants left in the world.

Of course, I wasn't the first person to consider this, as there is rarely something new under the sun. An article written called Treat Elephants like Cattle by Doug Bandow for Cato talks about this very thing. Doug makes the point that farmers in Africa see elephants as nothing more than giant rats who destroy their crops and sometimes kill the farmers. When he was director of Kenya’s Wildlife Service David Western explained: “Elephants are the darlings of the Western world, but they are enemy number one in Kenya.” Indeed, he emphasized, “The African farmer’s enmity toward elephants is as visceral as Western mawkishness is passionate.”

The problem is that the elephant is more like the American buffalo than the cow. No one is allowed to own them and the people living closest to them benefit from killing them. This is a recipe for endangerment of the species. However, in some areas, this is being reversed. Some parts of Africa give licenses to villages which enable locals to cull an allotted number of elephants and to set up game reserves where they can make money from photo safaris. This is a good start, legalizing the trade in ivory and other elephant products would provide additional resources. In essence, elephants need to be treated like cattle, a resource that benefits their owners.

In a Forbes article called, When you Ban the Sale of Ivory, You Ban Elephants, Doug Bandow said:

Elephants need a genuine market in ivory to survive. In fact, a Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) published a blueprint in 2012 for legalizing the ivory trade. Explained the report: “A legal trade in ivory, elephant hide and meat could change current disincentives to elephant conservation into incentives to landholders and countries to conserve them.” Equally important, regular legal sales would lower prices, reducing the incentive for poaching. CITES emphasized conservation and estimated that a population of 500,000 elephants could naturally generate $6.7 billion worth of ivory alone annually.

Anthropologist Richard Leakey, Kenya’s director of wildlife management, warned: “Unless we can make wildlife conservation profitable for all peoples, we cannot save our elephants for the future.”

Elephants are not the only animals endangered by poaching. So are rhinos. For instance, the New York Times recently reported that South Africa “is throwing just about everything it has to stop the slaughter—thousands of rangers, the national army, a new spy plane, even drones—but it is losing.” Indeed, added the Times, “Gangs are so desperate for new sources of horn that criminals have even smashed into dozens of glass museum cases all across Europe to snatch them from exhibits.”

Many other wild animals face varying threats to their existence. However, the news is not always bad. In some cases markets have been the key to conservation. For instance, vicunas once were considered endangered but now, reported CITES, “are managed through captive breeding and non-lethal harvests from wild populations.” Wild animals “are taken, shorn and released.” The population increased 40-fold between 1965 and 2010. Similarly, “The legal trade in crocodiles is one of the success stories in CITES history which shows species recovery as a result of trade.” In China “tigers are being farmed with the intention of supplying tiger parts in the future.”

But today elephants are dying, many because of ivory prohibition. Economist Rasmus Heltberg observed: “One may find such black markets and the poaching that supplies them immoral, but ignoring their role by assuming them away may lead to misguided conservation policies.”

CITES acknowledged the failure: “given the present rise in illegal killing of elephants in West, Central, and East Africa it is clear that current measures are not containing the present surge in the illegal trade in ivory.” Western governments should stop insisting on doing more of the same, which guarantees failure. The only realistic alternative is to create a legal market for ivory and other elephant products. Or, regulate elephants like cows.

We must decide whether it is better for elephants to be sacred and dead or commercial and alive. If elephants could talk, they almost certainly would prefer the second. So should the rest of us.

Until next time... keep striking the root!

 

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