The poaching of African elephants is a crime that plagues the entire world. They are sought after animals for ivory, or better known as their tusks. Even though there is a worldwide ban on ivory and the hunting of elephants, it still sells at a very high price on the underground market and many thrill seekers pay a high price to take an elephant as their trophy.
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The high price that these animals have on their head has led to the low numbers and a response from nations from all over the world. The real question that arises from the ivory trade and demand across the world and also the illegal hunting of these animals is, why do people do this?
The cause of elephant poaching is their ivory tusks and the high market value on them. Poachers are the reason behind the sharp decline of the African Elephant, plain and simple. In the 1970s and 1980s countries could legally trade ivory from elephants that were found deceased, but soon started to exhaust all of their resources by doing so, that created a huge demand across the world for it. Thus created the poachers that would illegally harvest the ivory to keep up with the demand and cash out on a large sum of money for doing so. The poachers started to soon act like terrorist groups by banding together and using larger and more powerful weapons to use, such as the M-16, which also caused the decline of the populations of the elephant. The response to this was worldwide. The country of Kenya, not only banned the killing of elephants and the sale of ivory, but it also implemented a shoot-to-kill policy. Shoot-to-kill policies allow rangers to shoot poachers on-sight. (Hutchens 935) This helped the elephant population, during 1970-1989 the population dropped from 167,000 to less than 17,000. But after the adoption of the shoot to kill policy, it rose again up 26,000, which counted as a success. Other countries though did not support the ban of ivory due to the reason that the used it to fuel the conservation efforts and because many of the citizens saw elephants as a pest because they would destroy crops and the watering source they used. This received protests from pro-ban countries and soon the pro-trade countries fell to pressure they were under due to the drop of demand of ivory (Hutchens 935).
After the ban on ivory in 1989, the elephant population raised tremendously. But soon after, countries figured out that with how the population was growing that it could not be self-sufficient. In the Cardamom Rainforest Landscape, elephants were poached for their tusks and meat because they were considered to be an easy target (Gray 35).
The effect of elephant poaching is a rapid decline in the elephant population and higher market value on the ivory. The Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as CITES, banned ivory trade worldwide. Elephants were initially categorized as all species which although not necessarily now threatened with extinction may become so unless trade in specimens of such species is subject to regulation. In 1989, CITES changed them to the category, all species threatened with extinction which are or may not be affected by trade. (Hutchens 940)
Recently, the poaching of elephants is on the rise. Between the years 2010-2012, over 20,000 elephants were poached for their ivory. The country of Kenya reported 50 elephants in the year 2007 to 300 in the year 2012 (Hutchens 945). This is a huge hit to the population and also to the citizens of Kenya. The elephants serve as a valuable resource due to the amount of revenue that is generated by the population because of tourists coming to seeing them or through programs to protect the elephants. The funds that are generated goes directly to education and water projects (Hutchens 946). The cause of the recent increase of poaching is because of the demand for it on the black market in China. The price for one pound of ivory is over one thousand dollars and the poachers see that as a hefty payday. The demand combined with the sophisticated weaponry has created the greatest poaching crisis since at least 1989, if not ever. (Hutchens 949) The ivory ban in 1989 seemed a success for the years to come after it, but now it seems they have failed and the poachers have found loopholes in the system. In 1999, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia sent their stockpiles of ivory to Asian countries, which refueled the market for it. One of the reasons that the ban may have failed is the different enforcement policy throughout different countries. Each has their own set of penalties and rules in which can be done with the ivory and other resources that the elephants produce. This in which creates the loopholes that the poachers can slip through and take the precious materials for their own profit. Due to the rising threat of poachers and the elephant population decreasing, states in Africa have developed the African Elephant Action Plan (AEAP.) Like stated before, not every country has adopted the AEAP in which has created issues throughout the continent. They need to do more than just adopt the AEAP; they need to effectuate the AEAP through creating uniformed enforcement mechanisms including shoot-to-kill laws, garnering citizen support through sustainable use programs, and increasing funding from both the international community and sustainable use programs. (Hutchens 937)
Botswana allows the trade and the hunting of elephants along with the resources they produce with the proper license. The law regulates the types of weapons used and if using the wrong types of weaponry breaks those laws it could result in a fine or imprisonment. Botswana allows the legal hunting of elephants due to them moving from Appendix I to Appendix II, but it is still illegal for a citizen without a license to kill one, Citizens can kill elephants outside of the preserves without a permit when the elephants are causing or threatening to cause damage, in self-defense, or if they kill the animal in error and promptly report the killing to the government.
The United States has also tried to regulate and ban the trade and sale of ivory through out the world. In 2014 the Fish and Wildlife service proposed changes to the regulations that covered the ivory business. First, the proposed rules ban all commercial imports. Second, the proposed rules restrict exports to bona fide antiques. Third, each sport hunter may import only two trophies (maximum four tusks) per year, halting the unlimited hauls of years past. Fourth, and most controversially, the proposed rules shift the burden of proof for domestic sales from the government to the dealers. (LaFountaine 2014) If these new regulations were passed and put into play, there would no longer be ivory sales inside the United States. This would mean that the poachers would not have a buyer thus sparing the life of an elephant for at least a little while longer. Along with the destruction of the ivory trade in the United States, this would also affect those that already own a piece of ivory. Anyone who currently owns an ivory item, and wants to keep it or gift it, is not impacted at all by these proposed regulations. However, owners of ivory without proper documentation (showing it is either antique or acquired legally before the 1989 ban) will not be able to sell it (LaFountaine 2014). The majority of the population in the US agrees with the ban, in a poll taken 80% support the ban on ivory sales if it would mean helping the population reform. The United States though has struggled with the importing and exporting of ivory. From 2009 to 2012, FWS officials seized close to 1,000 products upon entry and about 250 ivory items upon exportation from the United States. (LaFountaine 2014) The number may seem small by the amount that has been confiscated but that is what is pushing the elephant population to extinction. The amount of animals that had to be killed in order to make those products is part of the amount that could be saving the species.
The elephant ivory trade is an issue that plagues the world. An issue that needs to be dealt with in an extremely timely manner or humanity will soon add another species to the extinction list. Most of the countries that have elephant population are trying everything they can to save their populations, but will need the help of the rest of the world doing so.
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