We may be at a tipping point for Africa’s elephants. The population has plunged to only a quarter of what it was in 1980. Last year alone, an estimated more than 35,000 elephants were killed by poachers.
The continued slaughter of these creatures for their ivory has a number of frightening implications. The future of the world’s largest land mammals is in question. Many Africans currently benefitting from wildlife tourism may see their livelihoods impacted by the loss of these emblematic animals, which are a tourist favorite. And there may be a more immediate threat.
Money from poaching has been directly linked to criminal and terrorist groups that are intimidating local communities and threatening the security of many African nations, such as the Janjaweed militia in Darfur and Al-Shabab in Somalia. Ivory is currently more profitable for these groups than raw diamonds or heroin.
“This has gone beyond an environmental issue,” Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba said today at the annual Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) meeting in New York City. “It threatens the very stability of our countries and blocks our economic development.”
It is clear that halting the ivory trade could do more than protect elephants; it could help enhance national and global security.
Today at the CGI meeting, the global community has taken a bold step in this direction. Five conservation organizations — Conservation International, Wildlife Conservation Society, the African Wildlife Foundation, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and WWF — have pledged to provide US$ 80 million over the next three years to help governments, NGOs and concerned individuals stop the poaching of Africa’s elephants.
This collaborative effort will fight the ivory trade on three fronts: reducing killing, reducing trafficking and reducing demand. I’m encouraged to see that there are already many specific goals outlined in this commitment, such as hiring more than 3,000 new guards in priority elephant sites and ramping up anti-trafficking efforts (including adding sniffer dogs) at 10 key transit sites across the globe.
At the same event, a number of African nations announced their intention to pursue or re-state a suspension of all sales and purchases of tusks and ivory products until wild elephant populations are no longer threatened by poaching for trade.
Stay tuned next week on Human Nature for CI Chairman and CEO Peter Seligmann’s thoughts on this much-needed initiative. In the meantime, check out this clip of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Harrison Ford discussing the ties between wildlife trafficking and international security at CI’s New York gala in May 2013.
Molly Bergen is the managing editor of Human Nature.