By Vidya Abhayagunawardena
The world today is struggling to save the elephant, the largest critically endangered mammal. The problem is mainly due to poaching for tusks, known in the world as the “blood ivory” trade. If the current killing of elephants continues, the world will not have elephants in another 10 years and they will be forever extinct. Currently, every 15 minutes an elephant is killed for its ivory. According to the World Policy Institute Global, lust for elephant tusks is causing a log jam of ivory out of Africa. It is at a cost of 25,000 dead elephants a year, out of a continent-wide population of about 500,000. From container loads of tusks to carry-on bags bulging with carved trinkets, ivory has been going to Spain, New Zealand, and Turkey, to mention three hitherto unsuspected destinations. Mostly, though, it’s headed for Asia, where ivory has long been venerated, and above all to China, widely thought to absorb most of the contraband ivory from Africa.
Killing Rate of Elephants Today
According to the New York Times, Africa has lost perhaps 90 per cent of its elephants in the past half-century. Sierra Leone saw its final elephants killed in 2009. Senegal retains under a dozen if at all. In Gabon 11,000 were killed in the past decade, nearly 80 per cent of its elephants. The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s elephants have plummeted 90 per cent. Poaching is intensifying in Kenya and Tanzania — which are lucrative tourist destinations. Given that as many as 100,000 elephants may have been killed from Africa from 2010-12.
As IvoryTrade.com lists campaign groups, charities and other organizations concerned about the Ivory Trade have stated, “Poachers would kill the older male elephants for their larger tusks. Killing older elephants means that immature elephants are left to grow up without any parents to help them (young orphans may even die). Killing mostly male elephants means that there is a dangerous imbalance between the ratio of male to female elephants. Things are much worse now as modern poachers are more organized and have better weapons so that they can, and do kill whole families at a time.”
Global Illegal Blood Ivory Trade
The Illegal blood ivory trade is today a lucrative illegal business.This illegal wildlife trade has grown into a “massive global industry” worth at least US$19-billion a year, making it the fourth largest global illegal activity after drugs, counterfeiting and human trafficking. It is ahead of the illegal trade in gold, small arms, oil and diamonds according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
The illegal ivory trade has more than doubled since 2007, with ivory fetching up to $2,205 a kg in the streets of Beijing. Rhino horn on the black market fetches about $66,139 a kg, more than platinum or gold. All around the world animal-loving governments are committing themselves against the illegal ivory and Rhino horn trade, and they publicly destroy or burn the stocks as soon as they find them. In 1989, CITES banned international trade in ivory to combat this massive illegal trade.
Elephants of Sri Lanka and Threats on Them
A small country like Sri Lanka is blessed with around 5,879 elephants in the jungles and national parks according to the elephant survey carried out by the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) in 2011. Sri Lankan elephants are not at the mercy of poachers at the rate African elephants are facing them today. Sri Lanka’s contribution to the illegal ivory trade is minimal, but the Sri Lankan elephant faces severe conflict with humans due to illegal human encroachment on elephant habitats. This is known as the human-elephant conflict which is growing at an alarming rate in Sri Lanka at the moment.
Apart from the human-elephant conflict, elephants get killed by three methods of victim-activated weapons in Sri Lanka. Weapons such as -- Anti-personnel Landmines; Trap Guns (made out of with metal pipe, metal pallets and explosives) and Hakka Patas (a small locally-made explosive device usually hidden in animal fodder). The latest new threat on Sri Lankan elephants is aggravated by the baby elephant trade in recent years which was operated and supported by powerful politicians and businessmen under the patronage of the previous government. This totally violates the Fauna and Flora Protection Act, No. 22 of 2009 of Sri Lanka. To take legal action against culprits, the officials of the DWC were not allowed to use their legal powers by high-level politicians.
CITES and Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is actively giving support for protection of wildlife and against the global illegal wildlife trade. Since 4th May 1979 Sri Lanka is a signatory for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, known as CITES. CITES is an international agreement to which States adhere voluntarily. States that have agreed to be bound by the Convention (‘joined’ CITES) are known as Parties. Although CITES is legally binding on the Parties – in other words they have to implement the Convention – it does not take the place of national laws. Rather it provides a framework to be respected by each Party, which has to adopt its own domestic legislation to ensure that CITES is implemented at the national level. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
Annually, international wildlife trade is estimated to be worth billions of dollars and to include hundreds of millions of plant and animal specimens according to CITES. Since Sri Lanka joined the CITES, the country is committed to protect and adhere to the norms of the Convention’s obligations and attend and participate actively at the Convention meetings and proceedings represented by the Director General of the Department of Wildlife Conservation. What is more, Sri Lanka has banned the ivory trade since the 1970s. More....