EU Joins in the Global Fight Against the Ivory Trade
After the recent events of several countries like Kenya and the United States taking action against the ivory trade and market, some conservationists argue that the European Union (EU) has been “dragging its feet”.
“The global shift against the trade is evident, and the EU’s failure to put its own house in order will place it in an increasingly isolated position,” says Sally Case of the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation.
Global demand for ivory remains high and the legal ivory exports from the EU to China and Hong Kong fuel demand and facilitate laundering of poached ivory into the trade system. According to an EU report, between 2003 and 2014, 92% of the exports went to the two above-mentioned nations.
The EU has become the world’s largest exporter of pre-convention ivory, Fivory acquired before the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 1976 and the ivory restrictions came into effect. During the past decade, EU countries legally exported more than 20,000 carvings and 564 tusks, according to CITES. By contrast, fewer than a thousand carvings and a single tusk have been exported from the U.S. during the same period.
The increasing volume of shipped ivory has led to concerns that the legal trade is spurring demand for ivory and exacerbating elephant poaching.
Enrico Brivia, EU’s Commission of Environment, Maritime Affairs, and Fisheries spokesperson disagrees, contending that the trade is “strictly regulated” with “no evidence that [it] has been used as a cover for illegal ivory”.
But, CITES wildlife trade database shows that China’s and Hong Kong’s ivory import numbers surpass the number of EU export certificates issued. Even a 2014 report on the exports notes that “There are undoubtedly cases of fraudulent EU documents in circulation, and it is possible that falsified or forged internal EU trade certificates are being used as a basis for re-export certificate applications.”
A more recent EU document, issued in February 2016, stated that “Between 2011 and 2014, EU Member States reported seizures of around 4500 ivory items reported as specimens and an additional 780 kg as reported by weight. Most was destined for Asia, particularly China, Hong Kong and Vietnam.” The report notes that “it is often difficult to distinguish pre-Convention or worked specimens, which can be legally re-exported from the EU, from other ivory items, for which such export is banned.” It is possible that buyers purchasing ivory using forged certificates with the intention of illegally exporting them.
To prevent from further incidents, some EU countries, such as the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Netherlands, Slovakia, Sweden, and U.K., have already stopped issuing ivory export certificates and are pushing to make it an EU-wide policy.
However, many are saying that it isn’t enough.
On April 27, the African Elephant Coalition submitted five complementary proposals to CITES to protect the elephants, including shutting down all domestic ivory markets.
“African countries are blazing a trail to shut down the global ivory market,” remarks Vera Weber, president of the Swiss-based Foundation Franz Weber. “The EU needs to support their initiative and demonstrate its commitment to the world by shutting down its own market.”
Pro Wildlife Daniela Freyer states that “The EU must walk the talk and abolish ivory trade once and for all. EU ministers must demonstrate leadership to secure the survival of elephants.”
Though the European Union might seem to “lag behind”, the EU Environment Council has met last Monday to set in motion a year-year plan to tackle the surge in the illegal trade.
Defining illegal wildlife trafficking as a serious crime, the plan aims to prevent trafficking, reduce supply and demand for illegal products, toughen existing laws, combat organized crime, and boost cooperation between countries. A crucial component of the plan is providing funding support to African countries and promoting projects for local people for alternative sources of income.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) advised the EU on developing the plan and welcomed the move. Robert Kless, IFAW-Germany’s campaign leader, said, “The wildlife trade is a transnational problem which we can only effectively address together at an EU-wide level.”
While individual European states have taken action, Kless stresses that an EU policy would be much more effective against the trade. “France leads the way with a good example by totally banning the ivory trade – but that’s only of any use when legislation corresponds with those of neighboring countries, otherwise the trade simply relocates elsewhere.”
Earlier this month, the UN and its partners approved an additional $40 million funding to support the Global Wildlife Programme (GWP) in 19 African and Asian countries to address the growing crisis. The GWP was initially approved in 2015 for ten countries and on June 10, 2016, has expanded to an additional nine countries.
Europe “plays a direct roll as a market for wild animals and wild animal products,” Kless explains. “The EU had finally set out the important framework in order to better coordinate the fight against poaching and the illegal wildlife trade.”
Mother Bears Using Humans as Protection Against Male Bears
After their first winter, the danger still looms over the young cubs. From early May to mid-July is the Sweden’s brown bears’ breeding season. During this time, males will try to mate with every female to pass on their DNA. When they come across those still nursing last year’s litter, the males will kill the cubs to force the female’s body to reproduce once more. Such violent behavior is known as sexually selected infanticide. Over one-third of all cubs will die during the mating season. Of which, over 90% are due to the claws and maws of unrelated aggressive males.
“Bears generally avoid areas close to humans,” said Sam Steyaert, wildlife biologist from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. But during this season, young mothers choose to live closer to humans until the male bears calm down.
Previously, it was thought that these mothers and cubs were looking for extra food. But a new study, lead by Steyaert, has shed light that the aggressive nature of the male bears is causing the females and their young to find themselves near humans.
Experts from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, University College of Southeast Norway, the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, University of Sherbrooke, and the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences collaborated to study the relationship between cub survival and the habitat the cubs are raised in, focusing on instances of sexually selected infanticide. This tuesday, their findings were published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
To observe the behavior of a population of Scandinavian brown bears in south central Sweden, experts darted the mother bears by helicopter to fit them with GPS-collars. The darting was done in the fall before the cubs’ arrival, so by the time the bears emerged from their dens the following spring, sometimes the batteries were already sapped.
Fortunately, the scientists were able to collect important data from 2005 to 2012.
Out of the 26 mother bears tracked, 16 were able to successfully raise cubs and 10 failed.
The study reveals that human footprint could mediate sexual conflict, with humans acting as protective associates for female brown bears against SSI [sexually selected infanticide].” The median distance of the successful females to human habitation was about 780 meters (2,500 feet). The unsuccessful ones were nearly half a kilometer (a quarter mile) farther away at 1,210 meters (4,000 feet). It concluded with “successful mothers were more likely to use humans as protective associates, whereas unsuccessful mothers avoided humans.”
“Staying close to humans is indeed not without risk,” says Steyaert.
There are several risks for a bear that decides to stay close to human settlement. Bears are more likely killed by hunters or vehicle strikes, can become too fond of the garbage and compost heaps, and will likely have elevated stress levels.
But the research points that the trade-off is worth the risks in the short term. Male bears avoid humans and related risks despite knowing that there are females in the same area, increasing the cubs’ likelihood to survive.
While this kind of protective association can be found in other species, but there are not a lot of research on species, like brown bears, using humans to ease sexual conflict within their own species. It has been suggested, however, that Canadian brown bears use a similar strategy when humans temporarily displace adult males at prime pink salmon fishing spots, creating temporal refuges.
More research is needed because this behavior may have important implications for reducing bear attacks. Mother bears with cubs are especially dangerous due to their protective nature, so people living in bear country will want to be more wary than usual from May to July.
One Expert’s Opinion on the Fight against the Ivory Trade
After Kenya’s ivory bonfire last April came announcements that the country’s wildlife service will be moving towards “intelligence-based conservation with more emphasis on the pursuit of traffickers and smugglers rather than on the poachers.”
Kenya is not the only country following this trend in African wildlife conservation. Tanzania also has been ramping up law enforcement efforts, arresting and prosecuting traffickers as well as claiming to have caught several high-level criminals.
Many conservationists also say that it is virtually impossible to secure Africa’s vast protected wildlife areas from the desperately poor poachers. Instead, it is better to focus on the smugglers.
However, Benson Kibonde, who served as chief warden of the Selous Game Reserve, in southern Tanzania, for 17 years, considers that as nonsense.
The Selous Game Reserve, a World Heritage site, is one of the larger uninhabited wilderness at 19,300 square miles (50,000 square kilometers). A critical area for savanna elephants, the reserve supported around 110,000 in 1976. 38 years later, only 13,000 were counted, confirming that patrols are ineffective.
But, during that time, poaching has been contained before with its elephant herds on the path to recovery.
Kibonde first served as chief warden from 1994 through 2007. During that time, the elephants were able to rebound from 30,000 in 1989 to more than 70,000 by 2006. The majority of conservationists consider him as a hero of anti-poaching.
Ludwig Seige, Kibonde’s colleague when he headed the German Government’s Selous Conservation Program from 1993 to 2003, mentioned that “Kibonde managed one of the most important elephant areas in Africa—and in the world—successfully. So he knows how to prevent poaching on the spot.”
Once Kibonde transferred to a wildlife training institute in 2008, poachers quickly made a dent in elephant numbers. He was then brought back in 2012 and by the following year, numbers stabilized and began to rise. The warden stayed until he retired in late 2015.
Instead of focusing on the traffickers, Kibonde explained to National Geographic that “with enough dedicated, motivated scouts on active patrol, it is indeed possible to protect elephants—even in a wilderness as large as the Selous.”
He believes that the emphasis on anti-trafficking in Tanzania is too complicated and consumes too much money for the results. The objective of conservation is to protect the elephants and other species. Waiting until after the elephant has been killed with guys smuggling the tusks, arresting them only has a delayed impact.
“The proportions of allocation of our resources are wrong. More weight should be given to protection itself, to making sure that the elephants are not killed.”
When asked about what his plans were to stop poaching, Kibonde responded using his experiences.
“When I was in Selous, we really had to work hard, boots on the ground, and make sure that we were at every corner where we thought these guys would be. We killed off the incursion.”
He mentions that a vast majority of Tanzania’s elephants were located in only 20% of the reserve. The concentration of ranger patrols meant that “poachers would never, never, never, come around our area with impunity.”
Not only does Kibonde argue that the emphasis on trafficking is wrong, but he also considers the trade to be at the local level with the poachers.
While the poachers are using guns, their techniques and strategies are “all traditional”.
“As soon as they shoot, they hack the tusks using axes. They take the tusks on their shoulders. They walk their way through and back to the villages. Poachers are people from the rural areas, from the villages. Most of them have not gone to school. They learn from their fathers, they learn from their fellow villagers.”
In fact, he continues stating that the traffickers, smugglers, and organized criminal syndicates are not an issue at all. “As long as wildlife is not securely protected, it creates an incentive for people to kill it as a means of earning a livelihood.” If the elephants were fully secured, the supply, which is incentivizing the trafficking, would disappear.
While the retired chief warden still supports having the financial support to combat poaching, he continues to believe that the fight can be won without the money. Kibonde stresses that we have lost “the heart of conservation”.
“We have taken conservation by the head, having highly educated people, putting in lots of training. But we have lost the heart. And where we have lost the heart, that’s where we have lost conservation.
The job is simple. Go to the bush. Stand by the elephant and protect it. Full stop. And do whatever it takes to achieve that. But because it means toil, because it means offering sweat and blood and perseverance, people don’t like to take it up.
We are not there. We are not there. We are where the elephant tusks are. We are where the products of wildlife are, after the wildlife has been poached.”