By Joanna M. Foster
It has been almost a quarter of a century since cross-border trade in ivory was outlawed by the Convention on International Trade in Species or CITES. So why is it that just last year nearly one out of every seventeen wild elephants in Africa was killed for their ivory? Didn't we solve that problem a long time ago?
Maybe, but only for about eight years, while the ban was strictly enforced. And then CITES sanctioned the auction of millions of dollars of stockpiled ivory in a handful of African countries and poaching re-exploded under the shelter of the new legal ivory. In addition, the CITES ban did nothing to curb domestic trade in ivory, which the organization has no power to control. So while it might not be legal to import ivory into China, once it was there, it could be sold freely and for immense amounts of money.
In 2011, Kenya took the dramatic step of burning sixteen million dollars worth of confiscated ivory to demonstrate their commitment to stoping the trade. While it's not easy to watch that much money go up in smoke, especially in a developing country, many conservationists agree that there is simply no way to sell ivory in a sustainable way.
"As far as I'm concerned, the debate about commercializing trade in species to help conserve them is over," said Allan Thornton, President of the Environmental Investigative Agency. "We have been investigating the ivory trade for twenty three years and we don't see any evidence that either the international or domestic trade in ivory can be regulated. When ivory is sold, elephants die."
For these reasons, Thornton and like-minded conservationist cheered when Thailand announced at the last meeting of CITES in Bangkok in March 2013, that they would start the legislative process to ban the domestic trade of ivory in Thailand.
Currently in Thailand it's perfectly legal to sell ivory from domestic elephants. But the numbers just don't add up. Experts estimate that Thailand might legitimately have about 2,000 pounds of ivory to sell within the country, but Thai border authorities confiscate over 10 tons of ivory being smuggled out of the country each year. Clearly something's amiss. More....