By Angel Navuri
African Wildlife Foundation CEO, Dr. Patrick Bergin talks to The Guardian Staff Writer Angel Navuri, on the war against poaching currently being wage by many African countries including Tanzania. He says in part that a live elephant is much more valuable in terms of sustaining the tourism industry than a dead one and has asked African countries to make sure that the continent preserves the jumbos…
QUESTION: China’s decision to burn more than six tons of confiscated ivory in Guangzhou (Dongguan) has been applauded by many, as China is considered to be major a market for African ivory, claiming the lives of as many as 35,000 African elephants annually. Even our neighbour (Kenya) at one time burnt them. What do we learn from such decision?
ANSWER: I think what we learn is that there is a growing consensus among the international community that the trade in ivory should be discontinued forever. When countries like Kenya and the United States—and now China—destroy their ivory stockpiles, what they are really saying is that they do no foresee any conditions or time in the future when selling ivory will be possible or even desirable.
In light of this growing consensus and trend, Tanzania may also want to consider its policy and practice on ivory stockpiles. It is almost inconceivable given current conditions that CITES will allow international sales of ivory for many years to come. For this reason, Tanzania should consider joining the other countries in destroying their stockpile.
QUESTION: While the government has seriously initiated anti-poaching campaign yet it is planning to sell its stockpiled ivory (137 tons) worth over USD$ 80mn stored in Dar es Salaam’s tight security Ivory Room. What does the move signifY?
ANSWER: Tanzania’s overall policy with regard to protecting elephants must be consistent. It seems counterproductive to invest so much in an anti-poaching campaign to protect elephants while at the same time advocating to sell the very thing—ivory—that is putting them in jeopardy. In 2012, the Tanzania government submitted a proposal to CITES to be allowed to sell its stockpiled ivory.
At the time, the smuggled ivory from some of the largest seizures in the world was DNA analyzed and shown to be coming from Tanzania, particularly the Selous Game Reserve. Fortunately and wisely, the Tanzania Government recognized this inconsistency and withdrew their proposal to sell ivory before the CITES conference took place. Putting more ivory on the market only feeds and fuels the demand, and such a move would make Tanzania's elephants less safe, not more.
QUESTION: The demand for illegally traded ivory negatively impacts Tanzania’s tourism industry yet it is feared that the legal ivory trade would fuel the acts of poaching, what should Tanzania do?
ANSWER: The tourism industry is vitally important to Tanzania’s economic development, and it’s a sector that will only grow in the future so long as there are policies in place to ensure the long-term survival of its elephants and other wildlife. As the industry grows and diversifies, so too will the jobs it creates, thus becoming a renewable source of revenue. These are jobs that aren’t likely to disappear and can’t be outsourced.
Too many countries in Africa have allowed their wildlife to be nearly wiped out. The fact that Tanzania still has so much of its wildlife resource makes it that much more desirable as a tourist destination. A live elephant is much more valuable in terms of sustaining the tourism industry than a dead one.
QUESTION: If a total ban is imposed, how much would Tanzania and Kenya suffer bearing in mind of the country’s stockpiled ivory.
ANSWER: African governments tend to focus on the revenue lost when they cannot sell ivory but often forget about the phenomenal costs that the poaching crisis imposes on the economy and the treasury. Tanzania, Kenya, and other countries are already taking huge losses as they spend millions to enhance security in and around protected areas. More rangers, more fuel, more guns, more patrols—this is not a net winner.
Putting more ivory into circulation and ratcheting up demand for the product will only increase this financial burden, to say nothing of the “human” cost as rangers face increasingly well-armed and well-funded poachers. When you add up both sides of the ledger, revenues and expenses, you find that the ivory trade does not generate anything close to a positive net return.
QUESTION: How far have you reached with your public awareness tactics so as to inform consumers of the impact of ivory demand which is the root of the elephant poaching crisis?
ANSWER: We are in the midst of an ivory demand-reduction campaign with our partners (WildAid and Save the Elephants), which involves producing Public Service Announcements (PSAs) with famous Chinese celebrities such as former NBA star Yao Ming and Chinese actress Li Bing Bing. Because the highest demand for ivory products comes from China, it's important to work with prominent, recognizable Chinese stars to raise awareness among Chinese citizens. We are already rolling out these PSAs in China and online. Of course, celebrities aren't the only ones who can raise awareness, as we saw last Monday when the Chinese government brought attention to the crisis with the ivory crush.
Africans, too, must lend their voices to this crisis because it is ultimately their natural heritage that is being exploited and decimated. AWF is preparing to launch a pan-African, omni-channel, anti-poaching and wildlife trafficking campaign, called “African Voices for Wildlife,” which will recruit the average citizen into this fight to save their elephants and other wildlife. Since elephants have no voice, our chorus of voices must speak out for them.
QUESTION: Tanzania Tourism Minister at one time said the government efforts in the anti-poaching fight is facing a myriad of challenges, including insufficient funds to curb poaching, inadequate awareness of environmental crime among law enforcing agencies, lucrative illegal markets for poaching syndicates, corruption and lack of political will to support anti- poaching efforts. So what should be done?
ANSWER: Kenya took a very important step recently when it passed new legislation imposing much more punitive penalties on those involved in poaching and trafficking of wildlife products.
Part of the problem, in many countries, is that the penalty for committing a wildlife crime is simply too weak. A convicted poacher or trafficker might face a small fine or a couple of days in jail before they’re released. Tough laws and strong penalties are needed to dissuade potential poachers and traffickers from even thinking about killing an elephant or smuggling ivory. We hope that other countries, including Tanzania, will follow Kenya’s lead and strengthen their wildlife laws.