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We're facing a world without elephants: James A. Baker III  1 Month ago

Source:   USA Today  

I don’t think anyone wants to imagine a world without elephants. But that is a distinct possibility unless a global effort succeeds in preserving those great creatures.

Between 2002 and 2013, forest elephants in Central Africa suffered losses of 65 percent. The surge in elephant-poaching in the mid-2000s, combined with habitat loss, has led to a steady decline in savanna elephant populations in much of Africa, as well. Tanzania, for example, has seen losses of 60 percent in recent years. 

Fortunately, more and more leaders are focusing on the crisis. This October at the 2018 Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference in London, conservation experts joined law enforcement and government officials from across the globe to send a message that the world is serious about wildlife crime.

The conference came two years after the Obama administration imposed a strong ban on ivory sales in the United States. That effort played no small role in encouraging China — the world’s largest ivory market — to do the same. Then this April, the United Kingdom set itself on a course to adopt the strongest restrictions on ivory sales of any country; the legislation is on the verge of being finalized.

But more work is needed to save elephants from extinction. Two big markets for ivory — the European Union and Japan — should also ban the domestic ivory trade, which encourages illegal activity. Driven by criminal syndicates in Africa and Asia, elephants are poached for the high value of their tusks when carved into sculptures and trinkets.

Wanting to protect African elephants when I was secretary of State, I worked with President George H.W. Bush to press for a total ban on international commercial ivory trade through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora in 1989. It succeeded for a time in helping elephant populations recover. Sadly, the ivory trade surged a decade later due to growing demand and the growth of sophisticated criminal trafficking networks.

While wildlife crime has not received the same attention as trafficking in weapons, drugs and people, the criminals are just as ruthless. Judicial systems, meanwhile, have historically failed to emphasize law enforcement in wildlife crime, while corruption has helped criminal actors escape punishment.

For the people living in countries within the elephant range, elephants are more than the most iconic species on any continent. They are a major source of tourism revenue.

If we are to protect the world’s remaining elephants, we must commit ourselves to supporting the countries where they live, and whose communities are threatened by criminal trafficking networks.


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