Lawmakers across the country are dawdling as elephants die. In several states, special interests have killed bills this year to crack down on the ivory trade – most recently in Oregon and Hawaii – though California’s anti-ivory trading bill is looking strong and a comprehensive ballot initiative in Washington state – to prohibit trade in the parts of elephants, rhinos, sharks, rays, pangolins, and five other endangered species – is likely to appear on the ballot there this coming November. Yesterday, The Seattle Times endorsed the measure, which is being led by billionaire and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen with the support of The HSUS and other groups.
I am finding it hard to fathom that lawmakers anywhere are hedging and caviling on this issue. Do they not understand what’s at stake?
We know that Al-Shabaab, Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, and the Janjaweed share a common commitment to murder and terrorism. They also share a common reliance on poaching to fund their terrorism – murdering elephants with high-powered weapons, sawing off their faces to claim the tusks, and selling just that tiny portion of the animals’ bodies for profit. Their utter disrespect for human life and the lives of animals are intertwined; the killing of elephants for their tusks enables the killing of innocent people.
The ivory has value mainly because people in China and the United States give it value in the marketplace. There are people who carve it to make trinkets, or to attach pieces of ivory to musical instruments, guns or knives, or other common goods. Poaching at this scale cannot happen without end users of ivory in faraway markets. Close the markets and the poaching will wither.
It’s time for this trade to end. We can live without ivory trinkets, but elephants cannot live without their tusks. And African nations cannot live without elephants. Elephants are the keystone species in their ecosystems, and the keystone of the ecotourism economy, which is valued in the billions. Kill the elephants and you cripple economic activity that provides livelihoods for millions of people – education for children, jobs for women, homes and health care for families.
Poachers are killing approximately 35,000 elephants a year, and with every giant beast who falls, so do the hopes of the African people. Since 2009, Tanzania has lost close to 60 percent of its elephants. Mozambique announced its own census of the country’s elephant population in 2015 which revealed that they have lost close to 50 percent of the animals in the past five years. In central Africa, the situation for forest elephants is even more dire. It was said some decades ago that there were a million elephants in the Central African Republic alone. Now, there are 70,000 elephants in the entire group of countries in the center of the continent. Down from 30 million continentwide, there may be less than 500,000 now.
On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives takes up a spending bill for the Interior Department. One controversial provision would block the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from proposing a federal rule to clamp down on the ivory trade in the United States. It’s my sincere hope that lawmakers who care about elephants, national security, and the future of Africa will offer an amendment to strike that language, enabling the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take action on the issue and do what’s right for elephants, Africa, and the world.
Call your federal lawmakers and urge them to protect elephants and to support any amendment to enable the Fish and Wildlife Service to do lifesaving work for elephants.