New York Meetings Grow Coalition


Iain Douglas-Hamilton

Date Published

A series of meetings in New York in late September have further cemented the growing global coalition to save elephants.

During a speech the Annual Summit (which you can view here) convened by the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), President Ali Bongo of Gabon referenced February’s London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade and announced the welcome news that the CGI had come together with  the African-led Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI).

The EPI, whose signatories include two of the nations with the biggest elephant populations and ivory stockpiles, Tanzania and Botswana, acknowledged that the illegal killing of elephants and trade in their ivory is out of control across much of Africa. It not only endorses immediate and long-term funding for the African Elephant Action Plan but also commits participating states to close their domestic ivory markets and observe a moratorium on any consideration of future international trade for a minimum of 10 years (download the full text of the agreement here). 

“Gabon, home to two thirds of the forest elephants, joined with Botswana, home to two thirds of the savannah elephants as well as Chad, Ethiopia and Tanzania to launch the EPI,” President Bongo said.

“It is very promising that we have been able to bring EPI and CGI together today. And I take this opportunity to encourage you all to join with EPI and CGI in calling for a moratorium and to work with us to undertake concrete actions to save Africa’s elephants,” he concluded.

Leading ambassadors for elephants Leonardo DiCaprio and Li Bingbing – both of whom gave rousing and important speeches to the UN at the beginning of the Climate Change summit – found time to re-iterate to me their support for elephants and the Elephant Crisis Fund. The meeting gave the world’s major organisations and nations that have an interest in elephants to come together and compare notes as to what stage of the battle for elephants we had reached.

I came away encouraged by the fact that this coalition, this movement of scientists, NGOs both big and small, governments and their agencies have now recognised the crisis that elephants are facing. With the inertia that exists in high-level decision making it takes a long time for these major agencies to inject money into the stream, but these juggernauts are now moving in the right direction.

While the poaching is still raging in some places – notably the crossborder region spanning northern Mozambique and Southern Tanzania and the TRIDOM region of Central Africa – there are now signs that the coalition’s efforts are starting to bite. The principal indicator of poaching levels – the Monitoring of the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme – has fallen in parts of the East African range and the killing in a previous hotspot – Chad – has dropped dramatically.

We are fortunate enough as an NGO to have our headquarters in Kenya, a country where there is positive encouragement from the government to conduct research into the fate of elephants. This allowed us to give the first warnings of the current elephant ivory crisis, and – working with colleagues from the Kenya Wildlife Service, CITES and two international universities, our latest analysis of data suggests that 100,000 elephants in Africa were killed between 2010 and 2012 to feed the demand for ivory.

Kenya’s First Lady Margaret Kenyatta was at the CGI, giving me an opportunity to thank her for having played such an important leadership role in the campaign to save Kenya’s elephants. While the elephant situation in Kenya is serious there’s nothing that can’t be solved by a partnership between government and private sector to recognise the crisis and take the necessary steps to overcome it.

Save the Elephants has started an Elephant Crisis Fund aligned both to the CGI and the EPI. Jointly administered with the Wildlife Conservation Network, our aim is to join with others to take common action to save elephants. We have raised almost $4 million and are building up relationships with NGOs and governments, so far in Kenya, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Cameroon, Gabon, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi and Central African Republic.

We have joined the international coalition to save elephants and our aim is to build it. This is not the first time we have seen such a crisis caused by a surge in the price of ivory. It happened in the 70s and 80s. Joint action stopped it then and elephants recovered. We can do it again.