Monday, March 8, 2010

Elephant Ivory Trade

If you have followed my blog for any length of time, you know that I strongly support the active management of all the wild stocks that mankind works with.  The alternative is the curse of the commons and when collapse is eminent, criminalization.  Since neither properly works, we have a revisit every generation as this item demonstrates once again.

Elephants are majestic creatures who truly need to be left alone on ample reserves to live largely in peace.  For this to actually happen, much needs to be done.  I hate to say it, but tusks need to be harvested from living elephants in order to eliminate the cash value of the animal to a poacher.  I do not know if this can be done at all safely to the elephant.  An alternative is to discover a treatment that simply renders the tusk worthless.  The treatment might be to simply have specific herds owned outright under direct management contracts of sufficient size as to permit active protection.

Beyond that, normal herd management will produce a surplus of young males and females that can be culled into the meat and skin supply markets.  Otherwise the animals will always outgrow any assigned range.  This should also supply young tusks for the market.  The elephant could also be introduced into completely new forest ranges where it can be justified.  They can even assist in forest management.

Elephant herd management is a difficult problem to the present.  This may now come to an end with technology that enforces range constraint on large animals of all types.  The problem is no different with large carnivores and requires an identical solution.

The economic world of Africa is now rapidly changing.  It is possible that poaching will stop been a problem there in another twenty years.  Then the tusks will no longer be a temptation to anyone with a fine rifle.  Yet herd management is still just as necessary.


By Valerie  March 5, 2010

The debate surrounding the decision to once again temporarily lift a 20-year ban on the sale of ivory and re-open the ivory trade has pitted conservationists against two African nations. Tanzania and Zambia are hoping to generate revenue for development projects with the sale of over 90 tons of stockpiled Ivory and are eager to obtain international sanctions that will permit the trade of ivory on the global market.  These requests have, not unpredictably, met with widespread resistance.

The disagreement hinges on the perceived effect that resurrecting the global ivory trade will have on the African elephant population.  Concerns about poaching and destroying the already unstable species prompt conservationists to dismiss the idea as dangerous, but as Tanzania and Zambia point out, the management and conservation of a species is never as simple as banning its sale and a regulated trade may be just the answer to stabilizing the elephant equilibrium.  As ivory is no longer available through legal channels, black market sales have escalated and poaching has increased.  The two nations insist that having a governmentally regulated trade means the animals are actually more effectively protected due to the reinvestment opportunities it presents as well as the deterrent to black market sales that a more steady input of ivory into a marketplace hungry for the material will yield. Tanzania and Zambia will pursue these changes at the March meeting of CITES in Qatar.
CITES (the convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora) is an international agreement between governments with over 60 nation members, designed to protect dwindling wildlife populations.  Their system indexes species according to their danger of extinction and places restrictions upon the trade of these resources accordingly.  Appendix I species are those threatened with extinction and are only tradable in exceptional circumstances.  Appendix II species trade within controlled circumstances in order to avoid activities ‘incompatible with their survival’.   Zambia and Namibia are asking CITES to permit the sale and downgrade elephants from an appendix. I listing to an appendix II codification.
20 years ago elephants were upgraded to an appendix I species.  This was due to staggering declines in African elephant populations and over-hunting of the animal.  Since then there have been two one-off auctions of ivory, one in 1997 and one in 2008, designed to meet market demands and reduce black market activity which feeds off illegally harvested ivory.
CITES has made it known they are not in favor of the proposed third sale or the downgrading of elephants to Appendix II.  Several other African nations have also voiced their disagreement including Rwanda, Ghana, Liberia, The Congo, Sierra Leon, Mali and Kenya, the latter two of which have sent representatives to Brussels to lobby the EU, Tanzania’s Daily Mail reports.  The UK joins them in their opposition to the proposed auction and changes in trade regulations.  UK Environmental Secretary Hillary Benn confirmed this earlier this week with his declaration that they will be voting against the notions at the March meeting.  Several Tanzanian and Zambian news sources expressed surprise at this lack of backing as the UK had lent its support to both the 1997 and the 2008 one-off sales.
The 2004 meeting of CITES notes that the nations asked for permission for this downgrade to Appx II with the caveat that the ivory is sourced exclusively from ‘management related mortalities’.  As the populations of elephants grows as a result of conservation projects-in some parts of Africa to the point of overrunning the land, wildlife managers have turned to culling to control growth. Zambian officials are citing the resulting stockpile of ivory as resources from which their country has a right to profit.
CITES asserts that the sales may act as an opportunity for illegally obtained ivory to be sold and thus contribute to the slaughter of elephants in Africa.  Last week, UN officials began inspecting and testing Tanzania’s Stockpile.  Scientists as recently as 2007 have been able to carry out DNA testing on the ivory to determine its country of origin, it is thought that this will assure CITES the countries are using their own, responsibly attained ivory stock.  Both countries declare they can deliver a safely acquired product that will reduce market demand as well as benefit their countries.
Tanzania’s Dr.  Filician Kilahama is working now to assure CITES that the ivory is controlled and that there is continued protection for the elephant population, she is joined by Tanzania’s Natural Resources and Tourism minister Ezekial Maige who has pledged to work directly with wildlife experts to ensure the ivory is gained only through means not detrimental to the elephant population.  These professionals represent the voice of nations that are asking why they cannot use a natural resource to create revenue when obtained in a manner that will work to ensure its continued existence.  Conservationists expressed doubt that if trade was to re-open, the commitment to sourcing ivory simply from accidental or natural deaths would be honored-especially given that the enforcement of these regulations would be in the hands of the two nations who stand to profit from the sales.
This prompts many questions about the ecologic and economic difficulties involved in managing a wildlife population.  Bioeconomic modeling-which describes the interactions between commodity markets and biological populations-has been cited by those in favor of the downgrading, as it hypothesizes using economic modeling that banns legal trade of a historically popular material will only serve to increase black market activity and by extension, the illegal hunting of elephants.  The two nations maintain that they are working on a longer-term solution to the problem of poaching by re-opening the ivory trade, beginning with this sale, as it will be subject to strict controls and wider-reaching enforcement.  Zambia and Tanzania insist that they will be able to safely limit the source of the ivory and can in fact, see conservation benefits to this source of revenue.
As several economists have pointed out, the legal harvesting and trade of ivory could very well provide incentive for governments to carefully monitor and protect the resource, even reinvesting in its continued growth and creating such safeguards as habitats or more resources to curb poaching and stricter punishments for those caught poaching.
March will reveal whose argument has won more support.

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