September 24th was an extremely important day: the opening day of the 17th CITES Congress, where Government representatives meet to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants do not threaten their survival.
It was also the day that I was to join top conservationists and event organiser Action for Elephants UK, as we were to ‘March On Downing Street’ in the name of banning the UK and world trade in antique ivory.
Experts working closely with elephants and rhinos have informed me directly that these iconic animals have just seven to ten years to extinction if they continue to be poached at the current rate. Some 90-100 elephants are killed a day, and about three rhinos a day.
We have around 250,000 elephants left and only 28,000 rhinos. You may think 250,000, well that’s not bad, but if you go back to the beginning of the 19th century, there were over 5 million elephants. We have lost 90% of the population in only 110 years.
Not only are the elephants suffering, but lions are also down to 15,000, their bones crushed for traditional medicine (an ‘inferior’ replacement to the now rare and banned wild tiger bone), their skins taken for rugs, their heads as distasteful trophies on hunter’s walls, (such as notorious ‘Cecil’ killer dentist Walter Palmer), their mouths set into snarls, so as to suggest the hunter must have been pretty brave to have shot that ‘confined’ canned lion.
Conservationists working in Africa and Asia now struggle to find a live pangolin, their scales crushed down and consumed as traditional medicine in Asia and their flesh eaten as a luxurious delicacy. Humans have managed to destroy 50% of life on earth in just the last century.
Clsing the loopholes on ivory and rhino horn
CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, currently have placed most of the world’s elephants and rhinos on its Appendix 1, which automatically means they receive a worldwide ban on the trade in their body parts.
However a few elephants and rhinos in several regions remain on Appendix 2. This means they are still at risk. Many countries also own stock piles of confiscated ivory which they stash until they win rights for legal sale, which is applied for via CITES. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, this fuels the demand in ivory immediately with the highest consumers being China, USA and Japan.
Countries such as Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa appeal ongoing to CITES to sell their stock piles legally in order to generate money. The loophole here is whenever ‘legal’ ivory is released for sale, illegal poached ivory is ‘laundered’ into the trade and this is why poaching is not decreasing and is on the increase.
To make matters worse, there is still domestic trade allowed within a country’s borders, this includes trade from previously authorised stockpiles of ivory and ‘old’ ivory sold and crafted before the ban.
Many people argue that there is nothing wrong in trading ‘old ivory, but the trouble is, again, poached ivory is finding its way into the system via this antique ivory trade. Once crafted, it is hard to tell new from old ivory. The only way to stop the trade is to stop all trade.
Every species of rhino and elephant must go on Appendix 1
At Saturday’s march, I was proud to stand shoulder to shoulder alongside Born Free’s Founder and national treasure Virginia McKenna, award winning conservationist and elephant expert Ian Redmond, BBC Radio 5’s Nicky Campbell, Presenter Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (who was finishing up filming his BBC Wildlife Crime documentary on the illegal ivory and rhino horn trade), Elephant Family’s Ruth Powys, Born Free’s Dominic Dyer, Boris Johnson’s dad and Author Stanley Johnson, Helping Rhino’s Simon Jones, Ngane, a little girl representing Malawi and IFAW’s Philip Mansbridge.
Everyone made heart wrenching speeches and we all put heart, soul and personal feelings into why means so much for each that this trade must end.
Finally, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall headed up the group, as we crossed Whitehall to Downing Street in order to deliver our letter to Theresa May requesting the ban on UK ivory trade. I can proudly say that the letter, devised by charity Action for Elephants UK and signed by some of the world’s most respected conservationists and celebrities, was accepted.
So hopefully in the light of CITES, Theresa May and environment minister Andrea Leadsom will seriously listen to the voice of the majority, as it is the majority of the UK who want to see an end to this trade.
None of us want to lose our iconic species. None of us want to visit these animals in the confines of zoos and parks 10 years from now. It is especially critical now, as the human population in Africa about to double over the next 20 years, due to improving living standards.
It’s now, or maybe never!
It is now or never that we need to look to the preservation of the elephants’ and rhinos’ land, territories and protect them from the poaching. It will be hard, as their tusks and horns are now considered white gold with their value higher than cocaine; the money obtained from their trade fuelling terrorism and corruption.
All I know is that we have one last chance to do this and it starts with CITES making sure every species of rhino and elephant is on and stays on Appendix 1. Then all countries must group together collectively and banish the domestic trade in ivory and rhino horn.
These animals’ lives are well and truly in our hands and it’s time for us to act, but the question is, is it too late and has time already run out?
Anneka Svenska is a conservationist & broadcaster who specialises in films covering serious wildlife crime, wildlife & environmental conservation and education surrounding misunderstood apex predators and other endangered species.