July 31, 2013
I had only just returned to Kenya from a long round of meetings in the US in June, when I received an invitation that made me turn straight back around. Secretary Hillary Clinton was interested in holding a dialogue with the leadership of the conservation community in America about joining forces in a shared effort to save elephants. The gathering was expertly convened by the Wildlife Conservation Society at the Central Park Zoo in NY on Monday 15th July.
STE has long been calling for a coalition of those concerned about the elephant situation, concerned individuals, scientists who speak out, conservation NGOs, businesses, institutions like UNEP, and governments themselves, to take united international action to deal with the elephant crisis. This meeting looked like a critical step in the right direction.
An impressive spread of leading NGOs were present. Christian Samper, CEO of WCS, opened the proceedings with an overview of the current situation, highlighting a recent study carried out by WCS scientists and partners that showed a 76 per cent decline in the elephant population of Central Africa. Africa’s great elephant reservoir has now gone.
Secretary Clinton then gave a perspective on ivory poaching, highlighting organized international crime and the terrorist and notorious armed groups that are now involved. She said that the Clinton family were united in their interest to do something for elephants through the Clinton Global Initiative.
I gave a historical perspective on cycles of elephant killing throughout the millennia and the vagaries of demand for ivory, how Romans had eliminated the North African elephants, the Victorians those of Southern Africa, and the Europeans, Americans and Japanese had all played a role in the decimations of the 70s and 80s. Each time the elephant killing was driven by rising demand, and each time it died away. No one country is to blame, but the current demand from the Far East needs to be solved rapidly.
We discussed the recent Executive Order from President Obama, and the fact that the President had raised the elephant issue with President Kikwete of Tanzania which has the second largest elephant population in Africa. The Tanzanian elephant population is the second largest in Africa, but is also the most heavily large population in Africa. Secretary Clinton added that when she was Secretary of State, she and the President had raised the subject of ivory and elephants at the highest level with China.
Senior figures from the African Wildlife Foundation, AZA, Conservation International, ICCF, IFAW, International Conservation Caucus Foundation, the National Geographic Society, TNC, TRAFFIC and WWF were all present and gave excellent summaries of some of their actions for elephants.
IFAW related their programme of cooperation with Interpol and commitment to supporting law enforcement.
ICCF spoke of their campaign to bring awareness to a bi-partisan group of representatives in Washington to adopt appropriate joint actions.
IUCN spoke of the African Elephant Database run by the African Elephant Specialist Group, and of their plan for a Heads of State Meeting to be held in Dar es Salaam in November, hosted jointly by Tanzania and IUCN.
TNC spoke of their China Programme and how they intended to assist law enforcement with high technology solutions such as supporting the State Forestry Administration to detect illegal ivory posing as legitimate ivory by using DNA sourcing to determine countries of origin and isotope analysis to give the year of death.
I mentioned that STE had done some key scientific work on isotopes, with forensic potential had been carried out in America. This was recently published having been co-authored by partners from Utah, Columbia and Colorado universities and STE, led by Kevin Uno and Professor Thure Cerling
The AZA mentioned that China was setting up hundreds of new zoos and this might be an excellent medium for sharing awareness of the elephant crisis. AZA are themselves involved in a China programme.
Secretary Clinton’s aim at the meeting was to know if there were consensus amongst the leading NGOs present, on which she could build by facilitating awareness and action with the worldwide connections of the Clinton Global Initiative.
The meeting conveyed a strong sense of unified commitment to elephants. All parties were converging on the same basic three pronged strategy, which can be summarized by the slogan, “Stop the elephant killing, stop the trafficking, and stop the demand for ivory”.
It was recognized that the plight of the elephants is too large a problem for any single NGO, or any one country, to solve. Campaigns for ivory demand reduction, now endorsed by CITES, are of paramount importance, along with closing down the pernicious illegal domestic ivory markets that undermine the CITES international Ivory trade moratorium. Only united international action can prevail.
It was recognized that the next step would be to widen the circle and embrace international participation, in particular from African elephant range states, whose views and partnership would be sought. At the other end of the supply and demand chain knowledge of the destructive effects of demand for ivory on elephants should be shared with the principal consumers.
Working groups have now been set up to move forward effectively on these issues by leveraging the combined resources of the NGOs present and to recruit others and government funding and discusson continues.
I am delighted by this alliance and its momentum. The awareness and convergence of views is happening on lines long recommended by STE. Only by working together can we hope to secure a future for elephants.
PS The event generated significant press, including an interesting think piece on why the intervention of such senior figures is helpful in situations such as that which the elephant faces.