In early June, members of the African Elephant Coalition (AEC), a consortium of 29 African countries, met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to come up with future strategies to protect Africa’s wild elephants from poaching and illegal trafficking. The AEC restated its position that the only viable solution to end poaching and the use of legal loopholes by wildlife traffickers would be to put a blanket ban all ivory trade at both the national and international levels.
In the span of one decade from 1979 to 1989, nearly half of all African elephants were lost due to the ivory trade. In 1990, a ban on international commercial ivory trade by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) helped to reduce the poaching epidemic. Fortunately, African elephant populations began to recover. Yet countries, especially China with its rapidly developing economy, had booming domestic markets at the time. In just two years’ time, between 2011 and 2013, over 100,000 elephants were poached for their tusks. And between the years 2008 and 2016, the number of African elephants still declined by roughly 66%.
In spite of the international ban, many countries still have active domestic markets operating legally. As of 2018, the United States, as well as China, have already shut down their legal trade, while countries like Thailand, the United Kingdom, and France have cracked down on their respective markets. Meanwhile, countries like Taiwan and Singapore are likely to ban their ivory trades in the future. Yet this is not enough. According to the AEC, the continuing existence of domestic markets create opportunities for illegal black markets and criminal activity to operate. For the sake of the elephant, all countries should implement a total ban on the ivory trade.
The AEC also reaffirmed that live wild elephants should only be caught and traded for in situ conservation programs within their existing natural range. Furthermore, members of the coalition addressed other potential threats posed by global issues such as climate change and environmental degradation to the well-being and diversity of African wildlife.
African elephant populations especially suffer from habitat loss, fragmentation, and overgrazing. As Africa’s human population continues to grow and demand for food increases, the area of land required for agriculture also increases. Farms established on land on which elephants once roamed can actually become conflict zones between elephants and humans. Human infrastructure can fragment wildlife habitats into smaller areas, making it difficult for nomadic herds to reach other food and water sources and to breed with members of other herds. Meanwhile, overgrazed land not only means less food for the elephants but leads to soil erosion that further prevents grass from growing back in the future.
But hope for the African elephant still remains. According to Forbes, the number of elephants killed went down from 390 in 2013 to only 46 in 2017, as reported the Kenya Wildlife Service. In Tanzania, the number of killed elephants went down by 55% from 2015 to 2016. The United Nations, with China at the forefront, has unanimously called for a global ban on domestic ivory sales, with Japan as the only major world consumer that is not yet willing to participate.
Under Appendix, I of CITES, the majority of African elephant populations receive the highest level of international protection. Yet the elephant populations of four countries in CITES Appendix II receive less protection, meaning that their ivory could be traded on domestic markets. Following the meeting in Addis Ababa, the AEC will work to include all elephants under Appendix I. It will also strive to increase cooperation between the coalition members and to put pressure on countries to close their respective domestic ivory markets.