By Paula Kahumbu
African elephants have been thrust into the global spotlight by four events in the US: the Clinton Global Initiative last week, the March for Elephants on 4 October, the sentencing of American ivory trafficker Victor Gordon on 7 October [update: this has been rescheduled to February 2014\, and the crushing of 6 tons of US-held ivory in Denver on 8 October.
At the Clinton Global initiative, seven African nations joined Hillary and Chelsea Clinton in a commitment to end the slaughter of elephants by banning domestic trade in ivory, stopping the killing of elephants, the trafficking of ivory, and the demand for ivory. The countries were Botswana, Cote D'Ivoire, Gabon, Kenya, South Sudan, Malawi and Uganda.
Richard Leakey, founder of WildlifeDirect and the man who is credited with saving elephants from extinction by engineering the first ever and most iconic bonfire of ivory in 1989, said:
"I congratulate Senator Clinton for her actions and commitment and am all for each nation taking responsibility for saving one of the world's most magnificent animals. I hope that the USA will follow Africa and ban domestic trade in ivory … and provide support for strategic African initiatives to save elephants and stop the poaching."
A study by WildlifeDirect reveals that fewer than 5% of convictions for wildlife crimes lead to jail sentences. Not surprisingly, suspected elephant killers and ivory traffickers plead guilty in order to hasten the case and gain a light sentence. Most cases last only 24 hours and most convictions result in a fine of $100-$300. The laxity of the courts had been driving impunity and encouraging poaching, but now the magistrates are delivering jail sentences of three to five years. More....