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Elephants' lives go under the hammer

24th October 2008 Print
Elephants' lives go under the hammer Following the announcement that more than 108 tonnes of stockpiled elephant ivory in Southern Africa will be auctioned between 28th October and 6th November 2008, fear is mounting that the most vulnerable elephant populations across Africa and Asia will be unable to withstand the increased levels of poaching that are predicted to occur as a result of these sales.

The ivory auction, taking place in Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe, was approved by members of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), despite an international outcry from scientists and conservationists.

“We are deeply concerned that these sales will open the floodgates to additional illegal trade” stated Will Travers, CEO of the Born Free Foundation a member of the Species Survival Network. “For some inexplicable reason some people think that all elephant populations are adequately protected and thriving. Nothing could be further from the truth. For many of the most vulnerable elephant populations across Africa, any increased poaching pressure will almost certainly result in localised extinction in the near future.”

Japan and China have both been approved by CITES to purchase the stockpiled ivory raising fears that a bidding war between the two countries may drive up the price of ivory on the black market, leading to increased incentives to trade for the unscrupulous wildlife criminals.

It appears that the decision to approve China as a trading partner earlier this year, supported by the UK Government, is already having serious consequences for elephants across Africa. For example, disturbing reports from Virunga National Park in the Republic of Congo indicate that more than 10% of its elephant population have been lost to gangs of ivory poachers this year alone.

Zakouma National Park in Chad is suffering a similar fate, with more than 700 elephants being poached each year for their valuable ivory tusks.

Conservation groups such as the Born Free Foundation believe that concerted, collaborative efforts are urgently required to protect fragile elephant populations such as those in Chad from this dangerous new threat.

“The UK, speaking on behalf of the EU, played a significant and, in my view, shameful role in the decision to approve this ivory sale, and yet appears unwilling to take responsibility for the decisions they have made.” said Will Travers. “This is not only a tragedy for elephants, but also for the rangers trying to protect them. Rangers in some parts of Africa are losing their lives on the frontline of the war against armed gangs of ruthless poachers. Even if the EU is not prepared to act, the UK must unilaterally take decisive action and call for a suspension of the sale and provide urgent tangible support to countries with elephant populations under threat.”

Despite the evidence and despite Born Free's call for the sale to be suspended, on 2nd October 2008, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary - Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste, Joan Ruddock MP, said "Like you, I am very upset that poaching of elephants has taken place in Virunga and elsewhere but I am not persuaded that the situation you cite could be used to support the suspension of the one-off sale......".

Born Free is this week, writing to the The Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, asking him to intervene as a matter of urgency.

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Elephants' lives go under the hammer