Asian elephants are even more endangered than African ones with less than 40,000 left
THE poaching of elephants has reached unprecedented levels, threatening their very survival. In the face of this crisis, Elephanatics, a Vancouver elephant advocacy non-profit group, claims Canada is not supporting the worldwide initiative to save both African and Asian elephants.
At the last meeting of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) congress, it was overwhelmingly decided that globally, governments must close their legal domestic markets for elephant ivory as a matter of urgency. Canada was one of only four countries to vote against it.
A coalition of 95 Canadian and international scientists, politicians and animal conservation organisations have co-signed Elephanatics’ letter urging the government to ban the domestic trade of elephant ivory. They include the BC SPCA, Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, Mike Farnsworth, the Solicitor General of BC, International Fund for Animal Welfare, WildAid, Born Free Foundation, Humane Society International and African Wildlife Foundation.
In addition to the global signatories, Elephanatics created an #ivoryfreecanada online petition that garnered over 120,000 signatures – and hundreds more each day – from concerned citizens wanting to see an end to elephant ivory sales in Canada. Even though elephants are not native to Canada, elephants are still important to many Canadians. The petition accompanied the letter sent on Wednesday to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna.
It is estimated there were 12 million elephants in Africa in the early 1900s. Today there are approximately 415,000. That equates to a 97% decline in a century. Asian elephants are even more endangered with less than 40,000 left. Conservationists and scientists agree that at this rate the world’s largest land animal will disappear from the wild within our lifetime.
Fran Duthie, the President of Elephanatics claims, “The Canadian government has a unique opportunity to play a leadership role in elephant conservation by closing its domestic elephant ivory trade, thereby eliminating all legal loopholes. Ignoring this opportunity would put Canada at odds with the growing international movement to save elephants from extinction.”
The international trade of elephant ivory was banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) from 1990. However the domestic trade of ivory within a country is only regulated by national and local governments. Illegal ivory – ivory stolen from an elephant from 1990 onwards – flows through legal domestic markets because it is difficult to differentiate between old and new ivory without extensive and costly testing.
“That really is the history of the ivory trade,” says Peter Knights, Chief Executive Officer of WildAid and a signatory to Elephantics’ letter to the government. “When there’s been legal ivory trade, it’s served as a cover for laundering of illegal ivory.”
Several countries have changed their laws to protect elephants. In June 2016, the United States imposed a near total ban in domestic ivory sales. Two months later, France became the first European country to ban its domestic trade. China shut down its domestic ivory trade at the end of 2017. The United Kingdom recently solicited public feedback on a proposed domestic ban and 85% of the public supported it. In January 2018, Hong Kong’s legislature voted in favour of banning all ivory sales by 2021. Taiwan is expected to announce a ban on domestic ivory sales starting in 2020. Singapore is considering a full ban.
Due to the US Administration over-turning their ban on elephant trophy imports last week, there is additional onus on the rest of the world to increase their efforts to protect elephants.
The loss of elephants causes significant negative environmental effects. Elephants are a keystone species as many plants and animals rely on them to survive. They trek through the jungle, creating a path for smaller animals from mice to cheetahs. More than 100 plant species rely on elephants for propagation as they spread the seeds great distances via their dung.
In addition, international security is compromised by the scourge of elephant poaching. The price of unprocessed ivory in China reached its peak in 2014 at around US$2,100 per kilogram. This has made the ivory trade very attractive to terrorist groups, including the Lord’s Resistance Army.
For three weeks in 2017, Canada participated in “Operation Thunderbird”, a global wildlife enforcement investigation involving 60 countries. It was organized by INTERPOL, the World Customs Organization and CITES. Globally, 8.2 tons of elephant ivory was confiscated in the three week operation. Some of it came into Canada.
Julie MacInnes, Wildlife Campaign Manager of HSI/Canada states, “CITES has recommended that all nations with ivory markets that contribute to poaching and illegal trade close these markets. Multiple seizures of illegal ivory in Canada in recent years clearly indicate that an elephant ivory market closure is warranted, particularly given the items seized likely represent only a small fraction of the problem. It is time Canada respect the CITES recommendation and protect elephants by prohibiting ivory trade.”
By closing domestic elephant ivory trade, Canada would join a growing number of countries that are leading the path towards the long-term survival of this significant and iconic species. The public may sign the #ivoryfreecanada petition at http://bit.ly/ivoryfreecanada.