The New Yorker this week has a chilling story from writer Peter Canby about the poaching of forest elephants in the Central African Republic. Canby notes that “a report in the online journal PLOS ONE found that, between 2002 and 2011, the number of forest elephants declined by sixty two percent, and in those years they lost nearly a third of their range.” He gives us the grim news that “as few as eighty thousand remain.” That’s down from perhaps one million who once lived just in the Central African Republic.
The debate is obviously playing out in a dramatic way in Africa, with respectable nations fighting poaching because living elephants are part of the lifeblood of the economy. Wildlife tourism is one of Africa’s biggest industries, and the slaughter of elephants robs current and future generations of jobs and revenue. Chelsea Clinton released a powerful video last week about how wildlife trafficking is an issue of women’s empowerment, since so many women get out of the home and generate income for their families by working in wildlife tourism.
It’s also an issue of national security, given that so many of the armed bands murdering elephants are nothing but terrorist clans, such as the Shabab from Somalia and the Lord’s Resistance Army in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.
Demand for ivory does not exist much in African nations – the ivory is typically shipped to the Far East and the West. After China, the United States is the second biggest market for ivory in the world, with the licit legal trade providing a cover for the larger, more destructive illicit trade.
In response, The HSUS is working with accredited zoos, conservation groups, and others to strengthen the federal rules against wildlife trafficking, and the Obama Administration should be proposing that rule soon. That rule cannot come soon enough, because the commerce here in the United States is driving the poaching in the CAR, Kenya, Botswana, and other nations. We have also filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asking that African elephants be listed as an endangered species, and we’re working in the states to severely restrict trade in ivory, as a critical and necessary complement to the federal standards which deal just with interstate movement and imports.
Lawmakers in several states are fighting very hard to lock in new policies to protect elephants and African nations, but they are facing resistance from the National Rifle Association and other organizations seeking to stymie these reforms. In Washington state, where an anti-ivory trade bill was killed earlier this year, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has launched a ballot initiative for November 2015 to stop the trade in ivory, rhino horn, and parts of eight other species.
I am amazed that some state and federal lawmakers, some gun organizations, and others are bellyaching about people not being able to sell very limited amounts of ivory. Do they understand what’s at stake? One thousand game wardens have been shot and killed or hacked to death by poachers. Tens of thousands of elephants have been killed and have had their faces sawed off with chainsaws. The ivory taken from the faces of these elephants is financing the purchase of weapons and vehicles and food for terrorists trying to destabilize African nations and terrorize western nations. These are murderers who kill innocent people at malls and universities in Kenya. The economies of many African nations are hemorrhaging. Jobs are being lost, and people are starving as a consequence.
And these lawmakers are worried about a handful of their constituents selling trinkets? Have they no perspective? Have they no understanding of the larger moral crises at work? If they care nothing about the savage killing of the largest land mammals in the world, do they not care or understand the irreparable damage that this poaching does to struggling African nations?
The only hand-wringing by state lawmakers should be about how soon they get to vote “yes” to end the trade in ivory – not whether they vote “aye” or ”nay.”