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Why we must wage war to save elephants in Kenya and Africa

By Martin Fletcher | Published Wed, September 17th 2014 at 12:53, Updated September 17th 2014 at 13:09 GMT +3
  The war to save the Elephants    We could smell the elephant’s carcass before we saw it—a nauseating stench of decomposing animal matter polluting the pure air of the Kenyan bush. We could even hear the carcass, or at least the buzzing of the thick black canopy of flies that covered it. But the sight of it still came as a shock.   The 40-year-old bull had been moving north to avoid the worst of the rainy season when he was shot in his front leg and chest by poachers. He escaped from his human predators, but four days later he lay down and died in the shade of an acacia tree. That was a week ago. In life he would have weighed six tons or more, but his flesh had been devoured by jackals and hyenas. His tusks, each weighing more than 20 kilograms, had been removed by rangers. His eye sockets were empty. White bones protruded from beneath his leathery grey skin. The contents of his stomach had oozed into the red sandy earth.   We stared in silence, appalled that such a magnificent creature could be reduced to something so vile. The elephant’s carcass was an apt metaphor for the avarice that killed it. It was contaminating the air and ground around it, just as China’s hunger for ivory is corrupting Africa. The continent’s elephants are being massacred,   Its conflicts inflamed and its governments subverted so that China’s swelling middle classes can flaunt their wealth by buying ivory knicknacks. Generations hence, this slaughter of the planet’s largest terrestrial mammals will surely be seen as one of the great transgressions of our age.   I was shown the carcass during the 48 hours I spent with “9-1”, one of two elite 12-man anti-poaching squads deployed by the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), a confederation of 26 community conservancies with headquarters at the lewa wildlife conservancy in northern Kenya. Together those conservancies cover an area larger than Wales—9,000 square miles of steep, forested hills, majestic plains, vast skies and horizons as broad as the sea. This is storybook Africa, a veritable Garden of Eden complete with good, evil and abundant temptation.   The men of 9-1 live for days on end in a Toyota Land Cruiser, jolting down deeply-rutted tracks, trekking through the bush, sleeping under tarpaulins and subsisting on a diet of potatoes, rice and maizemeal. They carry semi-automatic rifles, night vision equipment, GPS navigation systems and two-way radios. They are supported by two planes and a helicopter, a 24-hour operations room, tracker dogs, a network of paid informants and more than 500 local scouts. They also have the active support of most of the conservancies’ inhabitants—villagers and nomadic herdsmen who have come to realise that preserving wildlife is much better than killing it because it generates tourist dollars.   The squad has a formidable reputation. Over the past four years it has caught or killed around 40 poachers. But the challenge it faces is simply too great. The NRT lost 87 elephants to poachers in 2011, 108 in 2012 and about 70 in the first ten months of this year, some of which were killed with ammunition stolen from a nearby British army training base. Those are just the known deaths. Ian Craig, the hunter-turned-conservationist who founded the NRT, says the real number is probably double that; and on the evidence of the time I spent with 9-1, I can well believe it.   After leaving the carcass we were caught in a flash flood that left our Land Cruiser axle-deep in mud as darkness fell. We spent five hours digging it out by torchlight, then slept in the open. Early the next day we sped south to a town called Wamba, a charmless collection of breezeblock shacks with a Wild West feel and signs announcing the “Joyland Bar and Butchery”, “The Hollywood Massive Stores” and “Minneapolis Beauty Salon”. A poacher had been caught there trying to sell two tusks for roughly £160 a kilogram—a fraction of the $2,000 or more per kilogram they would have fetched in China. The tusks were so blackened, scarred and unappealing that it is hard to imagine they could be so coveted.   The poacher, a thin, frightened man of 28 from outside the NRT whose dyed red hair signified that he was a Samburu warrior, was held in Wamba’s spartan police station. He claimed to have found the tusks lying by a road. He would appear in court the following day, and would probably receive a paltry fine. The men of 9-1 were disgusted. They prefer to kill poachers than arrest them because they either bribe their way out of trouble or receive fines worth a fraction of the ivory they have stolen. “If we just arrest them they go and pay money and come poaching again,” Jackson Loldikir, the squad’s leader, complained.   The following morning we headed north up the highway to Ethiopia which had recently been resurfaced by several hundred Chinese workers. The incidence of elephant poaching had spiked while they were there. Cattle herders had reported seeing a dying elephant deep in the bush. Sure enough, we found the carcass of a mature female lying in a clearing. She, too, had been shot in the chest but escaped her assailants. It was another sickening sight. Using an axe, local NRT scouts had chopped half her head away to remove her tusks before the poachers took them. Her severed trunk lay in the dirt nearby. Her stomach was swelling in the heat. She was lactating when she died, suggesting she had recently given birth. “I’d like to kill the poachers like they killed this elephant,” Ali Konchoro, one of the squad, muttered.   Nor did the carnage end there. As we returned to Lewa that afternoon the NRT’s other anti-poaching squad, “9-2”, reported two more dead elephants, one male and one female, with their tusks removed. The next morning, as I was leaving for Nairobi, Craig received word of yet another slain bull elephant, and of a confrontation when villagers prevented the poachers taking its tusks. “It will be like this for the next three months, one elephant after another,” he said, referring to the rainy season and its aftermath. In four years, he added, the NRT had lost a fifth of its elephant population. Though the NRT had every advantage —generous Western donors, a $1m-quasi-military security operation and strong community support—it still it could not defeat the poachers. The most it could hope to do was contain them.   However dire the crisis in the NRT, it is even worse elsewhere in Africa. Across the continent as many as 35,000 elephants a year, or nearly a hundred a day, are being killed. National parks—the supposed sanctuaries of these creatures—have become their graveyards. The tusks that ensured their survival for millennia have become their death warrants as international crime syndicates, terrorist groups, rebel militias and renegade soldiers have embraced a low-risk, high-profit trade in “white gold” worth billions of dollars a year.   In the early 19th century, Africa had more than 20 million elephants. By the beginning of the 20th century that number had fallen to five million, and by the late 1970s to 1.3 million. Officially the continent still has between 420,000 and 650,000 left, but many conservationists believe that after years of relentless slaughter the true number could be as low as 300,000.   The relatively small forest elephants of western and central Africa, whose tusks are of higher quality than those of savannah elephants, have been hit hardest. Three-quarters of the forest elephants in the vast Congo river basin have been wiped out, and in several of the region’s lawless, conflict-ridden countries only tiny, unviable pockets remain. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which boasted nearly 400,000 elephants 30 years ago, has fewer than 20,000 left. The Ivory Coast, named for its abundance of elephants, has fewer than 800. The Central African Republic (CAR), which had about 70,000 in the 1970s, now has barely 200. Countries such as Sierra Leone, Senegal and Sudan are still listed among the 38 “range” states that supposedly possess elephants, but may have none left at all.   “There’s a huge tidal wave of poaching moving through the forests,” said Lee White, a British biologist who heads Gabon’s national parks authority. One of his parks, Minkebe on the Cameroon border, has lost 15,000 of its 22,000 elephants to Cameroonian and Congolese poachers. Sometimes they fire at the elephants’ legs before moving in to kill them. Sometimes they hack off the tusks with axes while the creatures are still alive. “Every week we have a carcass and every week you have to close your soul and dampen down your emotions. You don’t even want to look. You just want to turn your back on another carcass and another failure.”   As the supply of forest elephants has dwindled the poaching has moved east. Officially, Kenya has lost about a thousand elephants since 2011, but most conservationists believe the real figure is double or treble that. Tanzania, home to Africa’s second largest elephant population after Botswana, is losing more than 10,000 a year. The relatively unscathed herds of southern Africa are now becoming targets.   “The killing has become so intense and widespread that very few elephants now survive long enough to die of old age,” Charlie Mayhew, chief executive of the wildlife charity tusk, said.   Frank Pope, chief operating officer of Save the Elephants, doubts that there are 100 “Great Tuskers”—bull elephants with tusks weighing 100 pounds or more—left on the continent.   The loss of mature elephants, particularly females, has knock-on effects. Orphans under the age of two seldom survive. Herds that have lost their leaders no longer know how to survive droughts and other threats. Whole ecologies suffer because elephants clear land and trails and spread the seeds of precious hardwood trees in their dung.   Elephant poaching is a conservation disaster, but it is even worse than that. It undermines Africa’s economies – tourism is Kenya’s second biggest earner and generates 17 per cent of Tanzania’s GDP. Most serious of all, it funds the enemies of law, order and good governance, thereby destabilizing whole states.   Man has always lusted after ivory. It is rare, sensuous, durable and can be transformed into the most intricate works of art. The Chinese have carved ivory for many millennia. Homer wrote 3,000 years ago that ivory “ranks with riches such as bronze, silver, gold and amber”. George Washington, America’s first president, had ivory false teeth, though they had an unfortunate tendency to turn black. Belgium’s King Leopold II plundered the Congo for ivory in the 19th century, prompting Joseph Conrad to write in Heart of Darkness’, his imperishable novel about that era, that “the word ‘ivory’ rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it.”   By the start of the 20th century both Europe and the US were importing huge quantities of ivory and converting it into everything from billiard balls (cut from the very centre of the tusks to ensure they rolled straight) to cutlery handles, chess pieces, bracelets, combs and musical instruments. Britain alone was importing nearly 500 tonnes a year, and the US more than 350 tonnes of which 200 tonnes were used for piano keys alone—most of them manufactured in the single town of Ivoryton, Connecticut.   Demand slumped during the two world wars and the Great Depression, but rebounded in the 1970s and 1980s as Japan, a new economic powerhouse, began importing substantial amounts, much of it for traditional ivory “hankos” or name seals. That was a time when conflicts were erupting between recently independent African states and Cold War arms were flooding into the continent, all of which facilitated elephanticide. As much as 1,000 tonnes of ivory—the product of 100,000 dead animals—was being exported from Africa each year. In a single decade from 1979, Africa’s elephant population halved to just 600,000, and the species was facing its first great crisis.   In 1989 the tide finally turned. Conservation groups waged emotive campaigns to save the elephant. Britain, the US and most of Europe banned ivory imports and exports. Then, on 18th July that year, Kenya’s President Daniel Arap Moi made the most dramatic gesture of all. Watched by the world’s media, he set fire to a giant pyramid of 2,000 tusks worth $3 million at that time. A plinth bearing Moi’s words now stands on the tranquil, elevated spot overlooking the Nairobi national park where the burning took place: “Great objectives often require great sacrifices. I now call upon the people of the world to join us in Kenya by eliminating the trade in ivory once and for all.” By a symbolic pile of ash a notice asks visitors to “join Kenyans in saying ‘Never Again’.”   Three months later in Lausanne, despite vigorous opposition from southern African states which still had healthy elephant populations, the (then) 103 parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) voted overwhelmingly to place the African elephant on its “Appendix I” list of species facing extinction, thereby prohibiting all international trade in its ivory.   The ban worked. Markets shrank. The ivory price collapsed. The killings all but stopped, and elephant populations began to recover. But the ban contained two fatal flaws. It failed to say what should happen to national stockpiles of ivory that accumulate as elephants die or illegal shipments are seized. It also allowed southern African states to lobby for their elephant populations to be downgraded to “Appendix II” status, permitting regulated trade in their ivory. Lobby they did, and eventually they succeeded.   In 1999 CITES allowed Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to make a “one-off” sale of 50 tonnes of ivory to Japan. The sale had no clear impact on the illegal ivory trade, and set a precedent. In 2008 CITES approved another “one-off” sale, this time of 107 tonnes to China and Japan by the same three countries plus South Africa. Most conservationists agree that the result was catastrophic.   The sale suggested to Chinese consumers that buying ivory was alright. It allowed traders to launder poached ivory as legal ivory because Beijing failed to implement a foolproof system of certification—unscrupulous retailers routinely switch identification cards from one artefact to another. And instead of selling the ivory to its 170-odd licensed outlets at a price that would undercut the illegal trade, the government sold it at a much higher price over several years, thereby fuelling the black market.   Far from satisfying China’s demand for ivory, as intended, the sale merely stimulated it and 350 million newly-enriched middle-class Chinese are now clamouring for a commodity they regard as a status symbol, a sound investment and a means of impressing superiors when offered as a gift. Surveys suggest they do not know rather than do not care about the origins of that ivory. Many believe it comes from elephants that died naturally, or that tusks fall out and regrow. “Xiangya”, the Chinese word for ivory, translates as “elephant tooth”. But the result is the same.   There is nothing remotely romantic about Africa’s modern-day poachers. Most are a far cry from the traditional “one-for-the-pot” variety. They supply powerful criminal syndicates operating throughout Africa and Asia, whose accomplices include terrorist organisations, which trade ivory for weapons in order to wreak mayhem across the continent.   Joseph Kony’s Lords Resistance Army buys and sells poached ivory. So do Darfur’s genocidal Janjaweed militia, the Islamic insurgents of Boko Haram who terrorise northern Nigeria, various Congolese militias and Somalia’s jihadist al-Shabab, which mounted the September attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi in which more than 70 people died. “The deadly path of conflict ivory starts with the slaughter of innocent animals and ends in the slaughter of innocent people,” the Elephant Action League noted after that atrocity. Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that elephant poaching had become “an issue of both national and economic security for nations across Africa.”   The poachers have also killed more than 1,000 rangers over the last decade, turning large tracts of African wilderness into war zones. In one carefully-planned ambush last December, six rangers were gunned down in Chad’s Zakouma national park, which has lost 90 per cent of its 4,350 elephants over the past decade. The Kenya Wildlife Service has had seven rangers killed or wounded this year, and has “eliminated” more than 30 poachers. President Ali Bongo of Gabon declared in September: “Our park rangers are engaged in a war against increasingly violent and well-armed gangs, battling not just for the survival of Africa’s emblematic species but for their own lives.”   The more sophisticated poaching gangs use motorbikes, powerful four-wheel drive vehicles, even helicopters. They carry 12-gauge shotguns, AK-47s and occasionally rocket-propelled grenades, as well as night vision equipment and satellite telephones. Others use poison planted in watermelons, pumpkins or loaves of bread. Last summer more than 100 elephants were killed when their watering holes in Zimbabwe’s Hwange national park were laced with cyanide. Another favourite poison is Temik, nicknamed “two-step” because that is all its victims take before dying.   Poachers are now attacking whole families and herds. In May, heavily-armed rebel militiamen gunned down 26 elephants, including mothers and babies, in Dzanga Bai, a forest clearing in the CAR’s Dzanga-Ndoki national park where scores of elephants gather each day to drink from the mineral-rich springs. Last year, a Ugandan military helicopter hovered over the DRC’s Garamba national park while marksmen killed 22 elephants with single shots to the top of their heads. Two months before that a hundred Sudanese horsemen armed with AK-47s and RPGs, probably Janjaweed militiamen, rode a thousand miles across Chad and systematically slaughtered some 400 elephants in northern Cameroon’s Bouba N’Djida national park.   Iain Douglas-Hamilton, the veteran elephant specialist who first alerted the world to the poaching scourge in the 1970s, once likened the African elephant to “a paper bag stuffed with money left lying in the bush,” and the odds are certainly stacked heavily in favour of the poachers and traffickers. They operate across highly porous borders, and often in states debilitated by conflict and awash with arms—AK-47s can be bought for as little as $40 in the Congo, and a bucket of ammunition for $20.   Most African states have negligible resources for wildlife protection. Kenya, though relatively prosperous, has just 2,800 rangers and 13 aircraft to cover the entire country. Tanzania’s anti-poaching budget is barely $5 million. Zimbabwe’s Hwange national park has 145 poorly-equipped rangers protecting an area the size of Northern Ireland.   In most range states the penalties for poaching or possessing ivory are derisory. In Kenya fines are generally less than $300, and just five per cent of those convicted receive prison sentences. The average fine for poaching in Tanzania over a recent 12-month period was $164, according to local media. There is so little cross-border or international cooperation that seizures of illegal ivory in Mombasa, Dar-es-Salaam or the ports of Asia rarely result in arrests in the consignments’ countries of origin, or in investigations of the criminal networks responsible. “Transnational law enforcement in this sector is virtually non-existent,” the UN environmental programme reported recently.   The syndicates also operate in impoverished countries whose subsistence farmers regard rampaging elephants as a threat to their livelihoods and conservation as a rich white man’s hobby. They pay front-line poachers more for a pair of tusks than they could earn legally in years. Everyone else they bribe—police, prosecutors, magistrates, rangers, border guards, customs officers, shipping companies and powerful politicians. In this way, they corrupt and undermine governments, the rule of law and democracy itself.   Ian Craig and his NRT colleagues know exactly who their ivory local traders are. They live in Isiolo, a rough town on the NRT’s south-eastern flank dominated by Somali Kenyans where no member of 9-1 would go alone in uniform. “Buko”, who owns a food warehouse on an unpaved backstreet, somehow escaped prosecution after elephant tusks were found in his Land Crusier in 2009. Robert “Rasta” Njiru, owner of a timber yard, has twice been caught with large amounts of ivory. They and others buy tusks from the poachers and ship them on to the kingpins in Nairobi with sizeable mark-ups, but they are never successfully prosecuted and everyone knows why. They pay handsome bribes.   In Nairobi Julius Kimani, the KWS security chief, declares that “corruption is my number one enemy.” He complains that the port and customs officials in Mombasa routinely arrange for cargo containers carrying illegal consignments of ivory to avoid the scanning process. He has given the names of five top traffickers —three Kenyans and two Guineans—to the country’s highest authorities, but they remain at liberty. “They are well connected,” he observes wryly.   The KWS is frequently accused of corruption itself. Last March 32 rangers and other officials were suspended on suspicion of colluding with poachers. Patrick Omondi, a KWS deputy director, acknowledges that some rangers succumb when offered bribes worth several times their annual salaries for inside information on patrols or animal movements, but says that dismissing trangressors is also a problem because they take so much inside information with them. Put bluntly, people charged with protecting elephants are actively aiding their destruction.   It seems that no-one is beyond temptation. Army officers, priests, a former defence attaché at the US embassy and even Soila Sayialel, a prominent Kenyan conservationist who featured in David Attenborough’s Africa series, have been arrested this year for possessing illicit ivory. Sayialel claims six tusks were planted in her Land Rover by the KWS.   The corruption in Tanzania, a de facto one-party state with a pervasive intelligence apparatus, appears to be worse still. Poached ivory from the vast Selous, RUAHA and Serengeti game reserves, and from CENTRAL AFRICA, is transported across the country to the ports at Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar, and from there to Asia. Between 2009 and 2011 37 per cent of all ivory seized worldwide came from Tanzania, with Kenya a close second.   The UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency alleged in a report on the ivory trade in Tanzania and Zambia that “senior members of the respective wildlife authorities have been, or are directly profiting from the trade and export of ivory”, and that government vehicles are used to transport it. Another astute Tanzanian remarked: “You don’t smuggle the tusks of five or 20,000 elephants through multiple road blocks, through ports and airports with any amount of sniffer dogs and scanner equipment, by some obscure means... You’ve got a huge government machine with its fingers, eyes and ears everywhere. Of course they know.”   The problem, he added, was that Tanzania was “totally in hock” to China which has invested heavily in the country and plans to build East Africa’s biggest port there. “The Chinese are very good at corruption, and basically money buys everything here. You come with enough money and the world’s your oyster. You do what you like.”   Poached ivory now floods eastwards from Mombasa, Dar es-Salaam and other African ports in record quantities, hidden in secret compartments within shipping containers or in cargoes of timber, soya beans, dried fish or avocados routed via third countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines. The wildlife monitoring organisation Traffic reckons that China accounts for 70 per cent of the trade in illegal ivory and as Tom Milliken, Traffic’s elephant expert, has observed: “The demographics of China absolutely swamp everything.”   Ivory also leaves Africa in the suitcases of some of the million-plus Chinese working on infrastructure, logging or mining projects there. They buy it direct from poachers, or from markets in cities such as Kinshasa, Lagos, Luanda, Johannesburg, Maputo and Khartoum, where it is sold openly and with impunity. They cover their contraband in tinfoil, wrap it in dirty underwear or spray it with perfume to thwart airport sniffer dogs. Hong xiang Huang, a Chinese journalist working in Africa, says that most Chinese labourers are poor, uneducated and there purely to make money. “In such a situation, how can you expect them to care about sustainable development of African countries? If you can’t make them like Africa you can’t make them care about Africa.”   Almost all those arrested for possessing ivory at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta airport are Chinese, but they pay a paltry price. They are brought before a court within 24 hours, plead guilty, pay a fine of around $300 and take the next flight home. “It’s an insult, but what do you do? It’s the law,” Mr Kimani of the KWS said. Diplomatic bags are another favoured means of spiriting ivory out of Africa. Channel 4’s Unreported World programme even alleged that when Hu Jintao, then China’s president, visited Tanzania in 2010 his officials took consignments of illegal ivory home on his plane.   However, around the world political leaders are finally taking notice. In July, President Obama established a Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking, and in November the US —the world’s second biggest market for ivory—publicly crushed its six-tonne stockpile. Hillary Clinton has embraced the cause, and recently brokered a three-year, $80 million agreement with five major wildlife NGOs to “stop the killing, stop the trafficking, stop the demand.” In Britain, Prince Charles and Prince William are striving to raise awareness of the crisis, and at their behest the government is organising a high-level conference on the illegal wildlife trade in London in February.   Botswana, one of the few countries that is tackllng poaching with real resources and determination, is hosting a spine-stiffening African summit in December. Kenya’s President Kenyatta is pushing anti-poaching legislation through parliament that provides for a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and heavy fines, and his wife has become something of an anti-poaching activist. Tanzania, having long denied the problem, has launched a crackdown on poachers called Operation Tokomeza. This led, in November, to the much-trumpeted arrest of three Chinese men who had more than 700 pieces of ivory from 200 elephants concealed amid snail shells filled with garlic at their home in Dar es-Salaam. Khamis Kagasheki, Tanzania’s outspoken natural resources minister, recently advocated a “shoot-to-kill” policy against poachers.   Even China appears to have stepped up its efforts to counter illegal ivory trading, though critics contend that a regime which can impose a one-child policy on a nation of a billion people could end that trade overnight if it really wanted to. It has broadcast public service announcements on state media, curbed on-line ivory sales, and used text messages to warn Chinese visitors to Kenya against buying ivory and increased seizures and arrests. Earlier this year a licensed trader in Fujian province received an unprecedented 15-year sentence for importing, via Kenya and Tanzania, 7.7 tonnes of illegal ivory—the equivalent of 819 elephants.   But conservationists suspect that at least some of this activity is MERE window-dressing by the “gang of eight” countries which were named as key links in the illegal ivory trade by CITES last March and told to put to put their houses in order. “We can’t afford to take it easy and think nice words are enough. I’m getting sick of these big meetings. The action doesn’t match the rhetoric or the scale of the problem,” Paula Kahumbu, head of the NGO WildlifeDirect, said. Gabon’s Lee White agreed: “There’s a lot of talk but thus far I’m not seeing that talk translated into action from the international community.”   One obstacle to concerted action is that Africa’s range states remain deeply divided between those in the south that favour a regulated trade in ivory, with profits ploughed back into conservation, and those demanding a total ban. Even the conservation NGOs have sometimes appeared more interested in competing with each other for donor dollars than rallying behind an agreed strategy.   But it is clear that most African states simply lack the resources to defeat the poachers, and that a large part of the solution must lie in curbing demand. WildAid has recruited Yao Ming, the basketball player, Li Bingbing, an actress, and other Cninese stars to ram home the message that “when the buying stops, the killing can too.” Conservationists take heart from China’s growing rejection of shark’s fin soup. But changing attitudes in a country China’s size is a massive task and there is no guarantee of success—certainly not in the near future. “The Chinese market for illicit ivory continues to grow without respite,” Traffic reported earlier this year.   In the meantime there is one radical plan being promoted by certain key players in the range states that seeks to build on the success of the 1989 ban while addressing its flaws. It appears to be the only comprehensive effort to address the poaching crisis that is currently in play, and to be gaining traction in African and western capitals ahead of February’s London summit.   It proposes the voluntary destruction of all national ivory stockpiles both inside and outside Africa— roughly 550 tonnes in all. That would send a dramatic message to the world that trading in ivory is unacceptable. It would remove the biggest potential source of legal ivory from the market, save governments the significant costs of safeguarding those stockpiles and remove the possibility of those stockpiles being sold by corrupt officials—or stolen—as has happened several times before.   Second, the plan would seek agreement that no more one-off sales should be approved for a decade or so until the scourge of poaching can be contained. That would end the present confusion over legal and illegal ivory that the launderers exploit by making it abundantly clear that all international trade in ivory is unlawful.   Third, governments and other international benefactors concerned about elephant poaching and its broader consequences for security would FUND the so-called African Elephant Action Plan which the RANGE STATES agreed in 2010. The AEAP contains detailed proposals for strengthening governance and law enforcement, disrupting trafficking networks and reducing demand, and would cost an estimated $100 million for the first three years. To qualify for those funds African states would be required to strengthen their laws and shut down domestic ivory markets.   The plan seeks to reconcile africa's pro- and anti-trade states by destroying the stockpiles but funding conservation. The stockpiles are effectively worthless anyway because there is scant chance of cites (caps) approving further one-off sales.   TIME is running out. Unless this plan or something similar is adopted soon, unless international demand can be curbed, even southern Africa's elephant populations will be targeted. In that case, Africa’s wild elephants could vanish within our lifetime. All that will remain of a magnificent species that has roamed freely through Africa’s forests and savannahs for thousands of years will be a few sorry animals cooped up in militarized reserves —wretched reproaches to the greed of humankind.   -Martin Fletcher is a former correspondent for the London Times. Martin is now a freelance journalist based in London, UK. Martin fletcher's trip was made possible by africa specialists the ultimate travel company    


 


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