CITES and Celebrities

Here we go again. CITES (The United Nation Commission for Investigating Trade in Endangered Species) are meeting again next week in Switzerland. These junkets are held every two years and always in exotic locations. I have no idea how they are financed, but they do little for the Fauna and Flora they are supposed to be protecting.

This year the thorny question of allowing limited trade in ivory and rhino horn will once again be put forward by Southern African countries, but the host nation have already said that they will veto it. Others will doubtless follow their lead despite knowing little or nothing about the elephant and rhino problems that currently prevail.

CITES itself is made up of one hundred and eighty-three disparate nations, only half a dozen of which have seen elephant or rhinoceros in the past few thousand years.

The ivory ban was brought in at the end of 1988 and I was in this country at the time. It worried me desperately and I spoke out against the proposed ban both in print and on Channel 4 television. All I received for my pains was a vast amount of hate mail and the knowledge that I was battling against sentiment rather than practicality. The ban was duly put in place and my gloomy forecasts soon came to pass.

In 1988, a kilogram of raw ivory was worth seven US dollars. In 2019, that ivory can only be bought on the black market and will set you back well over two thousand US dollars. It was surely inevitable that this would happen. Once a commodity that is in demand is banned officially, the value of that property jumps through the roof and in the case of ivory, this has led to the near extinction of an iconic species. At the moment, Africa is losing an elephant every fifteen minutes and unless the demand for ivory is stopped or at least lessened, they will continue to die despite the best efforts of many dedicated men and women on the ground.

I am afraid that it is a fact of life and all the pontificating by ‘celebrities’ or those idiotic young princes, William and Harry won’t lessen the slaughter or bring it to an end.

I think it is fairly well known that I personally despair of ever getting good governance in Africa, but I had to agree with President Masisi of Botswana who this week wanted to know why ‘people from the West’ lecture him and other African leaders on how to cope with their elephant when their own elephant populations were killed off millennia ago.

Masisi himself has recently re introduced licensed elephant hunting in Botswana and is considering whether a culling programme should also be put into practice.

The immediate reaction in the western world was shock and horror. Comedians, film stars, politicians and assorted ‘celebrities’ – including the princes – were up in arms, but none of them shares or possibly even knows about the dangers that face rural villagers when there are too many elephants in an area. These dangers are very real to the folk on the ground and most of them won’t be happy until the last elephant is dead. Who can blame them? Having seen elephant damage – and bodies of elephant victims – on many occasions, I certainly cannot.

The African countries where there are still elephants are almost all – Botswana could be an exception – in desperate financial straits. In Zimbabwe, there is widespread starvation yet the government holds many tons of legally acquired ivory in its storerooms. At the moment, they sell baby elephants to China, Pakistan and the Middle East, a practice that horrifies me but it brings in money.

If the ivory ban is revoked or eased, the money raised from current ivory stocks could feed people and help with the conservation of elephants and other wildlife species. It might even ease the pressure on those elephant families whose babies are kidnapped and sold off to zoos. If that doesn’t happen, people will continue to starve and mass slaughter of elephants will go on until there are none of them left.

Exactly the same situation prevails with rhino horn in South Africa. Tens of millions of pounds worth sit in storerooms, gathering dust and doing no good to anybody. Breeders like John Hulme who probably owns half the rhino remaining in the world, are likely to go out of business through lack of funds. This surely cannot make sense, yet the chances of the CITES delegates upholding a vote to overturn or change the current bans next week remains remote.

Wake up world; forget the sentiment and be practical. Elephants and rhino are wonderful animals and I spend a large part of my life lecturing on the former, but this situation just cannot continue.

Enjoy your luxurious conference you one hundred and eighty-three CITES delegates (I won’t mention the inevitable ‘hangers on’) but please see sense for a change. Let those few folk who know and understand elephants and rhinoceros speak and ignore the bunny-huggers, fanatics and ‘celebrities’ looking for publicity.

If practical decisions are not made next week, both elephants and rhino will disappear for ever.

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