By Derek Mead
This week, key nations along the illegal ivory trade route met in Botswana and agreed to implement a host of new measures aimed at stemming the trade. But agreements to crack down on the ivory trade have been made before; the trade is illegal, after all. With around 22,000 African elephants killed last year, what does the new agreement offer?
The agreement made between 30 nations, including African host countries like Kenya, and Zambia; ivory trafficking hubs like Vietnam and Malaysia; and demand countries like China and Thailand, came at the first African Elephant Summit, which was touted by the IUCN, which hosted the meeting, as being "the first-ever meeting focusing on the dynamics of the entire ivory value chain."
That's important because comprehensive action is need if skyrocketing poaching rates can be slowed. (And it must be, at current rates, as much as 20 percent of African elephants could be killed in the next decade, after two-thirds of Africa's forest elephants were killed in the last one.) As the poaching trade now mirrors the drug war in many ways, localized action—even threatening to shoot poachers on sight—won't stop poachers and traders from expanding elsewhere.
But the international sale of ivory has already been banned since 1989, and at this year's CITES conference, countries involved in the wildlife trade already agreed to make progress or face sanctions. Yet poaching does not appear to be slowing. The new measure hopes to break the impasse with 14 urgent measures agreed upon by all the signatories. While some of them don't appear to be more than diplomatic fluff—Urgent Measure 11 says the countries agree to "develop and implement strategies to eliminate the illegal trade in ivory," which is kind of the whole point—but there are a few positive steps outlined in the agreement.
Zero tolerance approach
The first measure agreed upon is key: All parties will "secure and report on maximum, and therefore deterrent, sentences for wildlife crime using a combination of existing laws and strengthened regulatory frameworks." Hopefully, streamlined regulations can make authorities' job easier in making arrests. But considering the fact that even a big bust doesn't prevent elephants from being killed in the first place, the deterrent effect of stricter penalties—if there is one, which is a big "if"—may be of even bigger importance.
Make wildlife trafficking a national security issue
Measure 4 advocates for getting countries' national security officials involved in fighting the trade. This is a line the US has trumpeted as of late, and could be a key path to getting more resources for anti-trafficking efforts. More....