By Michael Eustace
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) banned trade in ivory in 1989 but that has not stopped elephant poaching. There are many different estimates as to how many elephant are poached each year but 20,000 would seem a reasonable assumption. Most of the ivory — about 200 tons — is sold to Chinese buyers, with criminals making all the profit.
The wildlife donor agencies persist in promoting increased law enforcement and changing the Chinese mind-set as being the solution. But neither is working, as evidenced by the continuing poaching. Law enforcement in a corrupt society is ineffective, and changing the Chinese mind-set has been tried over many years and proved futile. China wants ivory and Africa has ivory. Both would prefer a legal trade rather than a criminal trade.
Africa can sell the ivory that is gathered from natural deaths to China to satisfy some of the demand. There are about 500,000 elephant in Africa and some 10,000 die each year of natural causes. They leaves 100 tons of ivory. That ivory could be sold by a broker, with a monopoly over all legal supplies of ivory, to a Chinese cartel of ivory carvers who could then sell to licensed retailers. That would establish a clear legal pipeline and China, as part of the deal, could undertake to close down the illegal trade and also confiscate stocks from speculators.
Some poaching would continue, but it would be a lot less and a legal trade would save at least 10,000 elephants every year. Plus, there would be $100m in profits each year for Africa’s parks rather than international criminals.