By Mike Norton-Griffiths
The recent resurgence of elephant poaching across Africa has generated much international comment. Blame is being laid primarily on the Chinese who, by getting ever richer, are creating a rising demand for ivory, thus setting off a new wave of poaching, all initiated by the ill considered decision of CITES to allow a one-off sale of ivory stocks.
The solutions on offer are equally familiar: ever stricter trade controls, confiscation and destruction of stocks, more investment in anti-poaching, and stiffer penalties - preferably death - for poachers, middle men and consumers alike.
One of the few things we do know about this immensely complicated ivory trade is that this standard version of cause and effect is too simplistic and that the standard solutions proffered have not worked particularly well in the past, are not noticeably working well now and so are unlikely to work any better in the future.
Respected economists have pointed out that trade bans are perfectly ineffective and that banning trade has not diminished the demand for ivory. Perversely, restricting the supply of ivory in the face of growing demand increases the value of existing stocks, dead or alive, making it even more profitable to poach even more elephant, perhaps even to extinction.
This command-and-control approach to poaching and the ivory trade has created an "Ivory Wars" mindset which does no favours for conservation in general or for elephant in particular. Indeed, it is now abundantly clear that by their very nature the Ivory Wars can never be won, there are simply not enough resources or money available. More....