Elephants and Immorality

I wrote an impassioned rant about politics and the Media earlier today but with my usual technological expertise, managed to ‘lose’ the lot while trying to post it. I know it is not really lost and is doubtless cowering somewhere in the bowels of my laptop but I don’t have the energy or the time to search for it.

In the meantime though I was sent an article entitled The Immorality of Saving Elephants. As most of you know, I spend a great deal of my time lecturing on the need to save elephants so the title of the piece set me back a little.

I do read everything I am sent though – apart from advertisements for this, that or the other – and when I read the article by John D. Holm and Robert K Hitchcock, who are both American university professors, I was impressed.

Let me quote from the piece.

Over two-thirds of the world’s African elephant population lives in four southern African countries: Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. By contrast, in the remainder of Africa herd numbers from poaching and population pressures have been in dramatic decline.

One would think that the four states protecting most of the surviving elephants would be rewarded for their exceptional efforts. But to the contrary, these states have been punished. This outcome was strikingly evident at the August meeting in Geneva of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The voting parties to the Convention rejected a proposal by the four southern African states that they be given the legal right to sell their stockpiles of ivory on the international market. They proposed to use their profits to pay for wildlife conservation and village damage caused by elephants.

How on earth can CITES justify such a moral failure to reward the four governments which are successfully investing in saving over two-thirds of the world’s African elephants.

The CITES majority, led by animal rights groups in the developed countries, claim they must be pragmatic. Effectively, this pragmatism means preventing all trade in elephant products, regardless of the moral cost. A recent Economist essay states that this pragmatism derives from a simple correlation. The one-time legal sales of ivory CITES allowed to three southern African states in 2007 resulted in increased smuggling for over a decade. The theory is that legal ivory comes on the international market one year and creates demand thereafter for smuggled goods. Most surprising in the case of the last legal sale in 2007, the poaching and smuggling is alleged to still be evident in 2018, eleven years after the legal ivory went on the market.

This is arrant nonsense I’m afraid but let me go on with the article.

We would suggest that according to standard economic theory, the causation runs in the reverse: When there are no legal products on the market, the demand for smuggled products goes up. What the animal rights groups and CITES are doing is creating demand for poaching and smuggling by clearing the international market of all legal ivory. To add insult to injury they are unwilling to reward the African governments that prevent elephant poaching from engaging in delimited international trade, the profits of which should be used to fund policing the poachers.

Surely this must be obvious to even the most determined animal rights campaigners. If trade is allowed and ivory is available, the demand for illegal ivory must diminish. Black markets are particularly vile and the black market in ivory ranks second only to the black market in hard drugs in terms of profitability.

The animal rights cause is further undermined by the fact the key organizations in this movement raise hundreds of millions of dollars from their supporters for their activities in saving the elephants. Yet neither they nor CITES itself allocate any of these millions to compensate rural villagers in the four countries whose crops, livestock, water points, and people are endangered periodically by the massive wild beasts roaming free in their midst. Nor have these organizations offered to financially assist the four African governments that are using costly police powers to prevent poaching in their territories. In effect, the wealthiest countries in the world are employing their overwhelming power and influence to impose trade policies on African countries with much less wealth.

The immorality of the current situation is multi-faceted. The animal rights organizations are raising millions of dollars from their unsuspecting supporters to save the elephants in developing countries, and they are using that money to lobby their governments to impose a policy which:

1) does not achieve the objectives their supporters are promised,

2) forces African countries to fund these failed policies,

3) punishes governments which save their elephants, and

4) offers no compensation to villagers for financial loss and physical suffering.

The Authors are quite correct you know. My latest book Ivory Challenge has recently been published and although it is a little love story set in the African bush, I have endeavoured to put forward most of what these two chaps have said in their article.

The situation is desperate and it is time that CITES ignored the voluble rabble who comprise so many of the animal rights groups and brought a little real pragmatism to bear.

With their current policies, they are merely hastening the ultimate extinction of the elephant – a result that I spend a great deal of my life campaigning against.

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