The decision this week by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) to impose a near-total ban on the sending African elephants from their natural habitat to zoos around the world offers a glimmer of hope for this magnificent animal.  The regulator of global wildlife trade passed the resolution despite the opposition of countries like Zimbabwe and Botswana, the main providers of elephants for zoos, and, sadly, the United States, who voted against the plan.  Even the European Union wanted an amended text before it would use its 28 votes to approve the resolution.

The ruling will go some way to ensure that elephants are not forcibly removed from their natural environment, only to be sent to zoos around the world.  Since 2012, Zimbabwe has captured over 100 baby elephants and sent them to zoos in China.  The amended text tabled by the EU said the removal of elephants could only happen in exceptional circumstances, such as where it would be essential for elephant conservation in certain areas.

The move follows a growing awareness of the plight of many animals in the wild, which are being poached and removed from their homelands for no other reason than the entertainment of humans.  A number of regulations have been passed around the world, including the UK’s banning of animals in travelling circuses.

But, of course, the elephant is facing many dangers due to human greed.  Figures released in 2016 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature show that in the decade between 2006 and 2016, over 100,000 elephants were poached for their tusks as the illegal trade in ivory witnessed a resurgence.  The IUCN estimated that there were only 415,000 elephants left in the wild in Africa, which demonstrates the urgency of a clampdown on poaching of one of the world’s most intelligent and magnificent animals.

And yet research shows that the poaching of elephants costs African nations £20 million a year in lost tourism revenue.  The research, carried out by the Universities of Cambridge and Vermont, along with the WWF, makes a strong economic case for clamping down on poaching, arguing that even without the strong moral aspect, illegal killing is bad for business because the financial cost of stopping it is much lower than the cost of doing nothing.  The crime is funded by organised global syndicates and fuelled by demand from China and across Asia.  The problem is now so bad that Africa’s elephant numbers have plunged by a fifth in just a decade.

The resolution by Cites merely highlights the plight of the African elephant.  Action must be taken now by African nations – and it makes economic sense – as well as discouraging the popularity of ivory in Asian nations.  Without immediate measures, the African elephant could be in danger of extinction in 50 years.

30th August 2019

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