African elephant populations are rapidly dwindling due to a resurgent ivory trade in Asia, but conservationists scored a significant win this week when when the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) declined Tanzania's and Zambia's request to sell ivory.
"This is a real victory for elephants," said Jason Bell-Leasks, of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
Both countries had asked for a one-off sale from government stockpiles. But Traffic, the body that CITES has charged with monitoring the illegal wildlife trade, recommended rejecting Tanzania's request due to poor law enforcement and weak coordination between its wildlife and customs services. Additionally, half of its ivory stockpile is of unknown origins, implying that corrupt government officials could be attempting to launder poached ivory with legitimately confiscated ivory. CITES rejected the Zambian proposal due to similar concerns.
According to the Traffic report, the three countries most heavily implicated in illicit ivory trade are Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Thailand.
Eugene Lapointe, president of the IWMC World Conservation Trust said, "The situation is simple: prohibition plus poverty causes poaching... Where people are given incentives to conserve, elephant stocks increase and poachers are put out of business."
African elephants face extinction by 2020, dwindling at a rate of 8% per year due to illegal hunting. After the international ban of ivory sales in 1989, their populations had stabilized. However, the past decade has seen a resurgent ivory trade fueled by the rise of economic prosperity in Asia, where ivory is seen as a status symbol.
There is hope, though. According to Dr. Samuel Wasser, of the University of Washington, "Public support stopped the illegal ivory trade back in 1989 and can do so again."
To learn more about how you can help save African Elephants visit: http:www.savetheelephants.org