Seventy-two boxes — that is all that was left of 100 African elephants, killed for their tusks. Confiscated from an office in New York City’s diamond district in 2012, the 72 office boxes were filled with small ivory beads, figurines, charms and toys.
Demand for these trinkets, often from consumers unaware the ivory comes from animals recently and illegally killed, is what drives the mass slaughter of elephants.
In a recent interview, a convicted poacher who spent a decade running a gang in Kenya admitted to personally killing more than 70 elephants.
“My attacks were so frequent that the elephants could not mate and have calves. There were not enough male bull elephants left,” he said.
These examples, sad but unfortunately all too common, reveal the international ivory trade at its most brutal. An estimated 35,000 elephants and more than 1,000 rhinos were killed last year alone. At this rate we are on a path towards the extinction of both elephants and rhinos on the African continent.
This is an ecological and moral disaster. But that is not all. Illegal poaching and trafficking also represent an economic and security challenge in Africa and beyond.
We have seen Al Shabaab from Somalia, the Janjaweed from Sudan, the Lord’s Resistance Army in east Africa and other armed groups move into illegal wildlife trafficking. It has become a multibillion-dollar business, facilitated by the same sophisticated criminal networks that are dealing in drugs, taking hostages on the open seas, and financing illegal arms sales and terrorist groups.
In recent years wildlife trafficking has become more structured, more lucrative and more ruthless than ever before. Poachers now use helicopters, automatic weapons, night-vision goggles and satellite phones to overwhelm and even kill park rangers and other local authorities. More than 1,000 wildlife rangers across the world have been murdered by these groups in the past decade.
These criminals are spreading instability, undermining the rule of law and threatening the tourist trade that is the lifeblood of so many African communities.
On both sides of the Atlantic, the scourge of wildlife trafficking has been centre stage recently. This month the White House announced a ban on new commercial ivory sales in the US and released a national strategy to address the illegal exploitation of elephants, rhinos and other wildlife.
In London, the Duke of Cambridge, the Prince of Wales and the UK government hosted an international conference to address the wildlife trafficking crisis. Delegates from 46 countries and 11 UN organisations signed a declaration promising to improve cross-border cooperation and strengthen laws and policing.
We strongly endorse a complete ban on ivory sales in the US. The global ban agreed in 1989 was successful in stemming a previous killing spree. Over time, however, exceptions have eviscerated the international ban and illegal ivory is now routinely bought and sold under one or more loopholes, providing cover for illegal traffickers. These need to be closed and sanctions imposed on countries that continue to trade in ivory products.
We are proud of the steps the US is taking and encouraged by the declaration made in London. But governments cannot end this crisis alone — private-sector action is needed as well.
At the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in September last year we brought together a coalition of African states, conservation organisations and other concerned parties to announce an $80 million (Dh290.4 million) commitment to action, called the Partnership to Save Africa’s Elephants. Our goal is to “stop the killing, stop the trafficking and stop the demand”. With more than a dozen partners, we are scaling up anti-poaching enforcement at 50 sites; strengthening intelligence networks; imposing tougher penalties for violations; and more.
Ultimately, saving Africa’s elephants depends on consumers everywhere. We need to connect the dots for people between the ivory goods they see in stores and the carcasses of dead elephants half a world away.
And as consumers, we should urge companies to help law enforcement authorities disrupt the transfer of tusks, rhino horn and wildlife products on ships, aircraft and trucks. Financial institutions should help to trace illegal transactions, freeze assets and impound ill-gotten gains from illegal trafficking. Retailers need to stop selling ivory products. And businesses need to blow the whistle on government officials and institutions that have been corrupted by this lucrative, illegal trade.
Only by working together can we beat this crisis, break the nexus between trafficking and terrorism, and make sure these incredible creatures will roam the earth for generations to come.
Hillary Clinton is a former US secretary of state. Chelsea Clinton is vice-chair of the Clinton Foundation.