Throughout history, the black market of ivory and horn has ebbed and flowed. Every so often, there come windows of opportunity to put an end to it altogether. Momentum is with us and that time is now. Kenya was one of the first countries to take a stand and destroy its ivory stockpile in 1989. Since then it’s become a symbol of conservation, a declaration of war against the poaching syndicates.
The Philippines, US and Hong Kong have all destroyed their stockpiles within the last year. France, Chad and Tanzania are the most recent countries to join the bandwagon.
As the fourth most lucrative illegal crime worldwide worth $19 billion, wildlife trafficking is gaining attention.
Last week the London summit for illegal wildlife trade brought together government officials from 50 countries. The focus was on specific actions of law enforcement and reducing demand for elephants, rhinos and tigers.
“We may be at a turning point, says Mary Rice, executive director of the U.K.s Environmental Investigation Agency. “The mood in the room today is that everyone is now finally- and really -acknowledging the problem, and that we’re moving closer to support a ban on all ivory from all sources.”
Key countries including Botswana, Chad, China, Gabon, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Tanzania, Vietnam, Russia and the US have agreed on actions to help eradicate the demand for wildlife products and strengthen laws. The US even announced a total ban on commercial ivory, which is tremendous considering they were the second largest market for ivory.
With so many integral players on board, it begs the question “Where’s South Africa?”
Home to 90% of the world’s remaining rhinos, South Africa’s support and committment is imperative. Yet, they were noticeably absent on the day of the conference, thus unable take part in any negotiations or to sign the London declaration. President Zuma did briefly address poaching in his state of the nation address, saying
”Our country continues to be the target of rhino poachers. Our law enforcement agencies are working hard to arrest this scourge. We have also reached agreements with China, Vietnam, Kenya, Mozambique and other SADC countries to work together to stop this crime. We thank the business community and all South Africans who participate in the campaign to save the rhino.”
Yet with no action, an empty chair at the world summit, and such a pitiful conviction rate when poachers are arrested, it does not appear to be a priority to Mr. Zuma or the South African government.
“We need to fight smarter and take a proactive, targeted approach. We need the necessary resources to be provided to all relevant law enforcement agencies and our criminal justice system to equip them to combat this priority crime which threatens South Africa’s security, economy and national heritage.
We need to be explicit about the impact that loss of tourism income and jobs could have on our rural communities and we need to appreciate those putting their lives on the line to protect our national heritage.” -Jo Shaw, Rhino Programme Manager
Much of the world is ready and willing to make this happen. But how far, how fast, and how much can this work without the enthusiasm of South Africa?