Urgent Actions to Save Elephants Agreed Upon At The Botswana Elephant Summit


Iain Douglas-Hamilton, CEO, Save the Elephants

Date Published

“Africa’s human and natural resources have been pillaged and plundered for generations by people from far off lands…and now also our elephant ivory and rhino horn are going to countries where they are used for God knows what! Only to satisfy ridiculous outdated beliefs whilst we remain with carcasses as proof we once owned these magnificent animals. Our window of opportunity to tackle the growing illegal ivory trade is closing and if we do not stem the tide, future generations will condemn our unwillingness to act.” 

So began a powerful opening speech by Botswana’s president Ian Khama at a high-level summit convened by his government and the IUCN early this month in Gaberone.

The meeting was attended by representatives of African Elephant Range States, ivory consuming nations, countries friendly to elephants, and major financial groups that should be donors to save elephants, including World Bank, UNDP, African Development Bank and USAID.  One should not forget either the ever keen NGOs, who only attended the last day of the proceedings, but nevertheless made a significant contributionto the proceedings.

The Elephant Summit resulted in a significant boost to the main existing strategy, the Elephant Action Plan, which  has been hammered out by the African states at successive CITES meetings. Building on past deliberations, and containing some significant additions, fourteen “Urgent Actions” were rendered in plain English.

These ‘urgent actions’ (listed here) are tangible outcomes that parties need to strive for if elephants are to survive.  They include priorities needed to save elephants from the ivory killing frenzy, but also relate to threats to national security, economies and sustainable development. The “urgent actions” complement existing strategies and will feed into the next important meeting to be held in London in February, hosted by the UK’s Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

The ivory crisis shows no sign of let-up, as seen in figures released at the summit. Preliminary information given by TRAFFIC suggest that even higher levels of illicit trade may be reached in 2013, topping that seen in 2011, the worst year on record. Although incomplete, the raw data for large-scale ivory seizures in 2013 (involving at least 500 kg of ivory in a single transaction) already represents the greatest quantity of ivory confiscated over the last 25 years for this type of seizure.

“From 2000 through 2013, the number of large-scale ivory movements has steadily grown in terms of the number of such shipments and the quantity of ivory illegally traded. 2013 already represents a 20% increase over the previous peak year in 2011; we’re hugely concerned,” said Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC’s Ivory Trade expert.

According to analysis by the Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) the record level of illegal killing of elephants across the continent attained in 2011, has not significantly diminished in 2012 and 2013.

As this crisis has built over the last few years, Save the Elephants has been pushing for a coalition of concerned world citizens, scientists who speak out, NGO’s, institutions, civic bodies, businesses, intergovernmental organizations, politicians and governments themselves.  This coalition needs to take united international action to stop the killing, stop the trafficking and lower the demand for ivory.  The Botswana Summit is a step towards this goal.  It is encouraging to see that even countries that formerly were vocal supporters of a legal ivory trade have now endorsed campaigns to lower the demand for ivory.  It is notable that China called to “eliminate” the illegal trade in ivory, a wording which was adopted.

It is now up to the donors to rally and to support this African led initiative with the millions of dollars needed to save elephants and usher in a better era for the species, and for the environment and the people that share the landscape with elephants.  If some brave nations and donors combine to render the ivory stockpiles harmless, along the lines of the Stop Ivory initiative and so support the African Elephant Action Plan and the fourteen Urgent Actions, the Botswana Summit will be proved to have been more than just a waypoint but a rallying cry for action.