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Issue 18
A Culture Of Secrecy, Deception And Lies
Cites - An Animal Dealer's Charter?
Pet Cloning - Cruel To Animals And Humans
Whatever Happened To Oscar?
Urgent Appeal
Book Review : Animal Rights In South Africa
Vioxx Suit Faults Animal Tests
Half Of All Birth Defects Missed By Animal Tests
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CITES - AN ANIMAL DEALER'S CHARTER?


The issue of culling elephants has everything to do with South Africa's assertive position on "consumptive" use. Consequently, it also wants to keep on stockpiling ivory in the hope that the ivory trade will be fully reinstated. So culling seems to be based on economic interests rather than ecological or ethical ones.

You can't look at the issue of whether or not to cull elephants without examining the trade in ivory. Since the Europeans arrived in Africa with their guns, elephant numbers have diminished significantly. And it is in fact the wealthy industrialised countries in the North that consume wildlife products excessively.

It is difficult to calculate elephant population numbers accurately, however, it is thought that there may have been 3-5 million African elephants in the 1930s and 1940s. This number fell significantly as African elephants were slaughtered, mostly to satisfy the demand for ivory. According to the WWF and the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, there are now only 272 000 African elephants remaining.

The ivory trade is regulated by Cites (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora ). It is supposedly designed to protect wildlife and plant populations from declining because of excessive trade. Cites operates from the premise that wild animals have an economic value and can be commercially traded. It is therefore a treaty that regulates, as opposed to prohibits, trade. Debates and controversies about elephants at Cites have over the years not only divided the signatories down the middle but have threatened the existence of Cites itself.

At the heart of these struggles have been the Southern African nations who, together with countries such as Japan and Norway, are the main proponents of the "wise use" doctrine of "if it pays it stays". In 1989, as a result of the devastation elephants were experiencing, the parties to Cites, (which included the majority of African nations) decided to ban all international and commercial trade in ivory. However, out of the 37 African countries, six Southern African countries - Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe - opposed the ban because they had stockpiles of ivory. Together they hold about 40 percent of Africa's elephants.

After the ban was implemented - and also because of concomitant hard-hitting anti-ivory public awareness campaigns - there was a dramatic decrease in the demand for ivory, elephant poaching fell steeply in East and Central Africa, on the international market ivory prices plummeted and the opportunity to launder poached ivory into the legal international trade was also removed.

But, at the 1997 CITES meeting, as a result of pressure from Southern Africa, a decision was taken to ease the total ban on the international ivory trade by allowing the trade to be reopened from Southern Africa to Japan.

It is ethics and compassion that should be essential in our relationships with elephants. Too much is now known about them to ignore their intelligence and deep emotions. As author Alice Walker comments, those who dismiss the concern with animal exploitation as sentimental "are people who have destroyed great tracts of feeling in themselves".

Michele Pickover
Xwe African Wild Life.

     

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