A Decade Later, Results of UN CITES Decision About Ivory Sale; An Elephant Holocaust in Africa

The results of the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species or CITES back in 2002 is worse than expected. An elephant holocaust is taking place in parts of Africa. The gentle giants will be extinct in some areas if unethical, amoral, and ruthless poaching doesn’t cease.  Back in 2002 members of the U.N.’s CITES meeting in Chile decided in favor of 3 African nations Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa to release stockpiles of ivory for one time only sales. The U.N. had previously put an overall ban on international sales of ivory in 1989-90 and that was extended for 9 years in 2007. Prior to that poaching was out of control, i.e., Kenya alone poached on average 3,000 elephants annually. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/2457965.stm and http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/2320901.stm

The 2002 decision was largely contested by animal welfare groups claiming it would ignite illegal poaching again. The head of that convention, Willem Wijnstekers, professed to see no correlation between making that ivory available on the market for a quick sale and an increase in elephant poaching.  Organizations like IFAW, Born Free, WWF, and Kenya’s Wildlife Service speaking on behalf of the elephants predicted what would happen with comments like:

  • [a]death knell for African elephants
  • a looming catastrophe for Africa’s elephant
  • Elephant herds would be decimated as illegal ivory smuggling booms.
  • a death warrant for thousands of elephants… which will now be targeted by well-organized poaching gangs to feed the increased demand that will be created for illegal ivory—IFAW.
  • decision could “spell doom” for elephants.
  • This move could re-open the floodgates to poaching on a scale not seen in the past decade

Despite warnings and an actual run-up of poaching in Kenya before the CITES decision, the all wise and knowing members of the committee on TRADE and not animal welfare decided to allow the sale of 60 tons and another 50 tons of ivory between the 3 countries on 2 occasions in 2004. Willem said, “The move did not imply a re-launch of the ivory trade, nor authorization to hunt.” He said, ”Instead, it would benefit local communities economically.”  Ahh, there it is—economics. Damn the elephants.  It’s political. WWF: “The level of political wheeling and dealing and trading on the decisions is worse than I’ve ever seen at any Cites conference previously.” Almost sounds like the U.S. grey wolf—literally thrown under the bus. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/2435663.stm

The CITES decision was also based on strong management programs for elephants in the 3 countries petitioning for sales and that “the proceeds [would] be used to conserve elephants.”  Mind you other African nations with elephants did not have strong management programs and were unable to ensure the elephant’s safety. After all, Africa is a big, big continent of geographically, politically, and economically diverse countries. The U.N. knows this. And money from ivory sales being used for conservation sounds a whole lot like the U.S. hunting industry constantly donating to conservation.  The lines purposely get blurred and the gesture ultimately amounts to more ways to kill critters that aren’t plentiful.  In other words, when the foxes decide to renovate and upgrade the henhouse, most assuredly the prize hens will come up missing.

The U.N. CITES committee also needed to develop a system of monitoring legal sales of ivory to see if the decision did indeed lead to increased poaching.  The actual sales couldn’t occur until 2004 because CITES was tasked with collecting all the data for hunting, artisans, and vendors that legally sold ivory in all 3 countries and whatever country purchased the ivory, plus a tally of elephant populations in order to ascertain whether or not it would be detrimental or not relative to poaching. Does anyone honestly think this monumental task would be done well in just 2 years?

Oh there were articles back then that just couldn’t seem to confirm the correlation between increased elephant poaching and the 2002 decision even though Kenya has continuously opposed the sale of ivory stockpiles from the beginning. Kenya suffers a severely diminished elephant population due to poaching even though Kenya has very good policing and enforcement policies. http://www.aseanbiodiversity.info/Abstract/51006445.pdf

None of the articles correlating the sale of ivory and poaching came anywhere as close to predicting the long term effects of the U.N. decision as those organizations dedicated to the preservation of wildlife. Conservationists clearly based their opposition not only on the science of managing elephant populations but also GREEDY HUMAN NATURE and the blatant politicizing of the 2002 CITES meeting relative to ivory.

So what did the U.N. CITES do in 2007 despite the upward trend in poaching and ivory demand? They allowed the same type of sale to the same 3 countries once again. And t appeared to be with an even bigger approval by the likes of Great Britain:

To the horror of conservationists, many countries – including Britain – argued that the sale would satisfy demand and reduce poaching. In fact, it has had the opposite effect and led to a surge in elephant slaughter by poachers who launder their ivory through the legal trade. The decision to allow the sale led to China and Japan being approved as trade partners and demand for ivory, in China in particular, has soared. Last year, China approved 37 new retail ivory stores.


By 2008-09, African elephant poaching was at an unprecedented high and auctions for ivory were taking place. http://www.wildlifeextra.com/go/news/leakey-poaching834.html#cr

Elephant Massacre Revealed in Chad

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/08/photogalleries/elephants-massacre/index.html for more pics.

Here we are in 2011. See what man has done? Not just the low life poachers but respected members of the United Nations CITES team that made a stupid, stupid decision against protests for the welfare of elephants worldwide. It was a wrong decision not once but twice. According to an article in the U.K. Telegraph:

Elephant populations in Senegal, Mali and Niger are on the brink of extinction. Chad has just over 600 elephants left, more than 80 per cent down from the 3,800 it had in 2006, while Zimbabwe lost more than 3,000 elephants last year, according to conservationists.

In the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, militias sell ivory from elephants to buy weapons. ‘Elephants are being killed all over Africa,’ says Ian Redmond, a British wildlife biologist and elephant expert. ‘The ivory trade is rampant.

Now despite the U.N. CITES attempts at more enforcement against poaching, too little, too late, the technical world has made tracking elephants even easier. That taste of ivory sold on the market in 2004 and 2007 sparked demand in Asia. Remember the “illegal” trade was loosed by that demand. Criminals don’t follow rules. And the proof is in the numbers of elephants decimated last year. It’s sparking the bush meat trade among elephants now. Not satisfied with carcass meat from ivory poachers, hunters put out snares catching young orphaned elephants too:

Ninety miles north-east of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, a baby elephant hobbles slowly towards a water hole on the slopes of Mount Kenya. Its rear leg is caught in a snare which it drags around with it.

The snare has torn open the elephant’s flesh which has become infected. Unable to keep up with the herd, the elephant has been abandoned and without help will soon die of its wounds.

The elephant was not a target of ivory poachers (it has no tusks) but was caught in a snare placed in the forest by another breed of poacher who is back in serious business. This is the ‘bushmeat’ poacher, who kills animals for their meat.


Elephants are highly intelligent, social animals that show emotion. From the same article:

Jolson Kitheka, the volunteer ranger, is still haunted by one detail of his encounter with the poachers’ handiwork.

The body he found was strewn with mud, leaves and twigs, tossed there by other elephants who had tried to cover up their friend; this is how elephants mourn their dead.

For now much of mankind does not get a connection between all living things as being our general salvation. More and more I truly understand Chief Seattle’s statement: “What happens to the beast, happens to the man.”

Read more about the plight of elephants:

The African elephant population has fallen from 1.3 million in 1980 to between 300,000 and 450,000 today. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/2454249.stm

Born Free annual reports on ivory http://www.bornfree.org.uk/animals/african-elephants/projects/ivory-trade/

http://www.mathaba.net/news/?x=555686?flattr amount of ivory allowed for sale over the decade.

http://banivory.wildlifedirect.org/2010/07/22/massive-haul-of-ivory-seized-in-thailand/ Just one of many stories of seized illegal ivory.

SAVE THE ELEPHANTS ORGANIZATION: http://www.savetheelephants.org/




3 thoughts on “A Decade Later, Results of UN CITES Decision About Ivory Sale; An Elephant Holocaust in Africa

  1. Thank you for an in-depth succinct round up of the lunacy of selling the Ivory stockpiles. 2012 is the lead up to the The 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 16) to the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is expected to convene in Thailand in March 2013. On the table is likely to be a request by some African nations (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Zambia… I think) to sell their stockpiles of Tusks once again, and we need to be ready, and work hard in lead up to this. We need to support with our $$ those organisations which have access to the Member Nations, those who CAN make a difference. I think CITES is a big broken political mess, it is the TRADE body, so of course it is going to want to TRADE – but it is still the overseeing body and decisions made there are binding. We all need to do all we can to save Elephants from the horror of the Ivory War. It is not enough to read this and the Huffington Post, and myriad other media that is sounding the death knell and say ‘oh dear!” We must provide support to the organisations on the front lines the anti-poaching units, the advocacy and political lobbyists who have Elephants wellbeing and survival as a species front-and-centre of their values base. Otherwise, it could be the reality, that in our lifetime – elephants will be virtually extinct … for nothing more than bling and greed.

  2. Agreed. I am a monthly donor to African Wildlife Fund and others, and give continually to the entire list and more of the environmental/wildlife organizations listed on my site. People have no idea what these groups do. They literally stand in front of drilling rigs, put themselves in the line of fire of poachers, go to court constantly to stop destruction of wild places and animals, and scrape together money for costly commercials to inform us. They are true champions for the earth and should be saluted for all they do around the world.

    Besides contributing in any way I can, my senators/congress people hear from me constantly on these issues. I have no qualms about calling Capitol Hill and have done so on many occasions. I am also a member of Care2.com and sign petitions there regularly.

    Thanks for your reply. Your passion for the animals is evident. I’m seeing more and more people take a stand.

  3. Pingback: Meet One of New Jersey’s Newest Elephant Heroes — and Learn How You Can Help | The Official Blog of Elephants DC

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>