By Richard Kilpatrick
For some years I have been sponsoring an African Elephant called Grace. It was a birthday present that I have never had the heart to cancel. She is fortunate enough to live in a conservation area in Kenya. Grace is one of approximately 400,000 African Elephants still alive in the world, their population having been slashed by 50% since 1989, driven predominantly by the ivory trade. Despite an increasing shift in western attitudes very little has changed. Ever expanding globalisation and the economic crisis has resulted in several fluctuations in ivory demand, perpetuated by international ivory trade deals that have flooded the market with ‘historic stocks’ creating an unsustainable demand curve.
2013 marked the 40th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which led to a ban on the trade of ivory in 1989, but still 8% of the African Elephant population is poached every year. CITES was responsible for failed market manipulation in the years leading up to the the ban. Only partial trade bans were given to Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe under Article II. This fragmented approach has had a serious economic effect on emerging markets like China, Thailand and India which has a strong cultural identity to ivory and still remain the largest sources of demand.
The biggest threat to elephants in 2014 will be the increasingly prominent middle-class in China and India. Oscar Holland and Sijia Chen of the Independent, which has been running an elephant appeal to raise awareness of the plight of the worlds largest land mammal, write:
"While the international ban in 1989 is widely credited with curtailing trade in the West, China is now the largest ivory market in the world and accounts for an estimated 70 per cent of global demand."
While Ivory is still culturally important in China, its scarcity at a time of global economic decline has made it a sensible purchase for those wanting to invest equity and capital. Government attempts to restrict the black market ivory trade in China has resulted in a large hike in price and demand. Furthermore as Chinese companies continue to turn to emerging African markets for foreign infrastructure contracts ivory smuggling will continue to increase.
I would imagine that many reading this article are saddened by the plight of the elephant. I would like to think that many in our party are frustrated by the slow action by the international community and the failings of CITES. Fragmentation of ivory bans, ‘one-off’ historic stock sales and legalised hunting constituted by article II of CITES is responsible for the death of 100 African elephants every day. If current patterns continue the African elephant will be extinct by 2027.
As a party we should call for a reassessment of CITES, to ensure it reaffirms its commitment to a total ban on the sale of ivory. There is much that the UK can do to help Chinese authorities tackle the black market demand, and within the UN the UK can continue to work towards a unilateral ban on the ivory trade. Last week the European Union pledged €12m to help fight the illegal ivory trade across Africa which will go towards preventing further civil conflict which is often funded by the ivory industry. The same funding stream that UKIP Members of the European Parliament want to see abolished, while producing no policy on animal welfare to date.
Liberal Democrats should be the party that works within Europe to build on the work already done. We should be supporting a Pan-African Free Trade area, mentioned in the Coalition Agreement, which will go some way in ending the conflicts that fuel the ivory trade but also will result in the creation of institutions capable of regulating the sale of elephant products. We should also be building on the African Elephant and the Ivory Trade early day motion, making it the basis of Liberal Democrat party policy.
It might not be a vote winner. Many may feel sympathetic but detached. But it is the right thing to do. The industry has clear links with state and non-state terrorism, perpetuates civil conflict and has funded humanitarian catastrophe. Safeguarding the future of the most majestic, attentive animals on earth from the inhumane aspects of humanity should be the mission of this generation, even if its only to indulge the generations to come with the ability to share a world with Grace and her calves.
* Richard Kilpatrick is Chair of Middlesbrough and East Cleveland Liberal Democrats and sits on the English Council for the North East Region.