By Chelsea Clinton
While elephant poaching has been a serious challenge at different points in time for more than a century, it has recently risen to alarmingly high levels. According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, the African elephant population has dropped from 1.2 million in 1980 to just 420,000 in 2012. While land use pressures and habitat loss pose serious threats to elephants, it is the illegal killing of elephants for their ivory that could cause them to become extinct within our lifetime. Last year alone, 35,000 African elephants were poached for their tusks, for their ivory.
This is not just an ecological disaster; it is an economic and security threat as well. Tourism, a vital source of income for many of the most-affected African countries, is threatened if wildlife preserves are depopulated. The overall black market for illegal wildlife trade has become the fourth most lucrative criminal activity internationally, after drugs, counterfeit goods, and human trafficking. Wildlife trafficking yields $19 billion per year, according to The International Fund for Animal Welfare’s recent report. These illicit profits fuel rebel and militia groups, even terrorist organizations. Ivory and other wildlife commodities help finance some of their operations in East Africa, West Africa, and possibly further afield, adding to the already increasing concerns around global security.
The illegal ivory trade is buoyed by rising demand. China and Thailand’s increasing affluence, as well as the growing middle class elsewhere in Asia, has been a key contributor to the increasing demand for ivory. Not surprisingly, as the demand increases, so too does the price of tusks and ivory and the tragic incentives for elephant poachers. According to a recent Washington Post article, Savannah elephant tusks sell for up to $1,000 per pound, with forest elephant ivory often fetching an even higher price given its prized pinkish hue. Yet, it’s not just animal poaching or the illegal trade of animal parts that has enveloped within this crisis – poachers are putting park rangers in danger too. In the last decade alone, 1,000 rangers in 35 different countries have been killed.
To help end this crisis, we need a complete systems change and we need to recognize that elephant poaching exists within its own market system – we need to stop the killing, stop the trafficking, and stop the demand by educating end consumers. Last November, as then-Secretary of State, my mother announced the beginning of an effort to further recognize and address international wildlife trafficking, and just last month, President Obama issued an executive order on Combating Wildlife Trafficking, with a $10 million pledge demonstrating the United States’ commitment to addressing the crisis and related organized crime issue by working with foreign governments. More....