Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Britain is hastening the extinction of the African elephant

In 20 years, African elephants will be extinct if the UK doesn’t join the US and China in clamping down on the domestic ivory market

Jonathan Baillie

Sunday 7 August 201600.02 BST

When we think about extinct animals, we look to history books and fairytales. The dodo. The woolly mammoth. The sabre-toothed cat. Yet extinction remains a very real threat today. The future of the African elephant is at stake and urgent action is needed to stop it being added to the list of extinct species. The UK government must end the domestic market in ivory to close loopholes exploited by criminals. Only fast action will secure their future.

If you think this is hyperbole, consider the figures. Until the 1940s, there were between 3m and 5m African elephants. Current estimates put that figure at less than half a million. Their tusks have long been a target of poachers and some 100 African elephants are killed each day. At this rate, they will be extinct within 20 years.

The illegal wildlife trade also blights local communities. International criminal gangs are involved in the $20bn annual trade that is now the fourth largest global illegal activity after drugs, counterfeiting and human trafficking. Their activities cause instability and threaten national security in many African nations, blocking much-needed development in impoverished rural communities.

Elephant protection is fast becoming one of the most urgent conservation issues of our time. On 12 August, we celebrate World Elephant Day and next month, representatives of 182 countries will meet at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) conference in Johannesburg to discuss action needed to protect elephants. This landmark meeting should see countries around the world calling for the closure of domestic markets for ivory products to eradicate ivory trafficking.

This action by individual states is a crucial step. Domestic ivory markets are known to provide cover for illegal trade in ivory and, importantly, they also reinforce demand for the item and the high value of ivory as an aspirational status symbol.

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