The London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) is an important landmark in the fight against wildlife crime and the destruction that it causes, particularly to elephants. Since the initial London Conference in 2014 the situation has changed dramatically, with widespread recognition that IWT is a form of serious organised crime, intimately linked with other crimes such as corruption, drug trafficking and terrorism, causing significant damage to fragile economies.
Save the Elephants hopes that 2018’s London Conference will inspire governments to:
- recognise the significance of illegal wildlife trade;
- strengthen laws around wildlife trafficking; and
- establish vetted, multi-agency task forces that have the mandate and capacity to tackle high level traffickers.
We also hope that the UK government will provide significant financial and technical support to these initiatives.
Says Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Founder of Save The Elephants. “International wildlife trafficking is a form of serious organised crime and a worldwide scourge which threatens to impoverish our planet by causing the extinction of many life forms as well as the destruction of habitats. No single NGO or even government can tackle IWT alone. Protecting wildlife requires a global coalition of support from members of the public, influencers and activists, conservationists and scientists NGOs, civic bodies, international organizations, politicians and governments. Only then can we thwart the traffickers, stop the poachers and persuade those who knowingly or unknowingly buy illegal wildlife products to desist.”
The Ongoing Crisis for Elephants
There are signs of hope for elephants in some countries, such as Kenya and Tanzania where the number of elephants poached each year is reducing and their overall situation improving. But the continental numbers are still in decline, and there are many national elephant populations which are in danger of functional extinction. Once gone they will be hard to bring back, with reintroductions prohibitively expensive in most of Africa. Without elephants to disperse seeds, dig wells and clear pathways through forests and thick bush from savannah, these landscapes would be irrevocably changed.
Ivory trafficking is still at peak levels and while the ivory sales ban in China was very good news, we have still not seen its impact in Africa. There have been great improvements in some countries in sentencing and prosecution of mostly low-level poachers and traffickers. However, corruption, lack of commitment from governments in treating wildlife crime seriously, and lack of skills for complex investigations means that there has been little success in convicting high level traffickers.
Just last week we released a new report showing growth in illegal ivory trade in the Myanmar-China border town of Mong La, where there has been a 63 percent growth in new ivory items seen for sale in the past three years. The report shows the scale of the challenge that remains for elephants in the face of the ivory trade.
Says Chris Thouless, Director of the Elephant Crisis Fund: “There are encouraging signs that elephant poaching is going down, partly because there are fewer left to kill, and the major elephant populations should survive the current onslaught. But there are many other elephant populations of critical ecological and cultural significance which are right on the edge, and without redoubled efforts against poaching, trafficking and illegal ivory sales they will be lost, probably for ever.”
Solving the Crisis
In 2009 Save the Elephants sounded the warning bell that ivory poaching was starting to affect the relatively well-defended elephant populations in east Africa’s protected areas.
In 2014 Save the Elephants and the US-based Wildlife Conservation Network set up the Elephant Crisis Fund, in partnership with the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. Now with the support of corporations like Tiffany’s and many other donors, the ECF provides rapid support to a range of organisations working to reduce elephant poaching and ivory trafficking and to reduce the demand for ivory. No overheads are charged and 100% of the money raised goes to the field.
As of September 2018 the ECF has granted over $14 million and supported 198 projects implemented by 66 organisations in 32 countries. The projects have allowed the development of innovative approaches to law enforcement at the site level, new partnerships in the fight against ivory trafficking and impactful demand reduction campaigns.
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About Save the Elephants (www.savetheelephants.org)
Save the Elephants works to secure a future for elephants in Africa. Specializing in elephant research, STE provides scientific insights into elephant behaviour, intelligence, and long-distance movements and applies them to the challenges of elephant survival. Through our thriving education and outreach programmes, we reach out to hearts and minds, making local people the true custodians of their own rich heritage. Our human-elephant conflict mitigation projects, especially beehive fences, have reduced the number of crop-raiding incidents, and provide farmers with elephant-friendly alternative sources of income. To battle the current surge in ivory poaching, our Elephant Crisis Fund is identifying and supporting the most effective partners in Africa and in the ivory consuming nations to stop poaching, thwart traffickers and end demand for ivory.