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February 21, 2014

France Takes Public Stand Against Illegal Ivory Trade

by Kim Lewis

France joined several other countries determined to combat the multi-billion dollar illegal killing of rare wildlife with the public destruction of three tons of illegally imported elephant ivory confiscated by the government in recent years.
One of Europe’s grand architectural landmarks, the Eiffel Tower, became the scene for Europe’s first public effort to condemn the slaughter of elephants and the resulting ivory trafficking. 

“Countries around the world are taking a look at initiatives that basically reinforce what a number of other countries have done in terms of crushing ivory,” says wildlife expert Craig Sholley in praising the French government’s anti-poaching declaration.
“And each and every one is a step forward in terms of basically showing the world that ivory is not a commodity that they basically can speculate on in the future,” he said.

Sholley, a wildlife biologist and mountain gorilla expert, is a vice president at the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Conservationists have for years argued for more action against the killing of rare and engendered species, often focusing on elephants and rhinos in Africa’s protected areas.

“At the moment, it is a very despicable situation,” says Sholley. “There’s no question that we’ve lost many, many elephants and rhinos over the course of the last number of years.” 

Countries line up to crush poaching

AWF leaders joined heads of state from around the world who recently met at the Wildlife Trafficking Summit in London to focus on ways to end the trade of elephant ivory, rhino horns and the capturing and trade of other rare and endangered wildlife.

Sholley says French participation builds on anti-poaching momentum created in recent months with the burning or crushing of ivory and rhino horns by governments in the United States, China, Gabon and the Philippines.

The public destruction of these illegal animal parts is a centerpiece of public awareness campaigns supported by conservation groups such as AWF. They hope to teach potential purchasers in countries where ivory and rhino horn are purchased that purchase and possession is illegal and the result of the wholesale slaughter of endangered species.

“Needless to say, China destroyed several tons of ivory about a month ago,” Sholley says. “Hong Kong has committed to destroying 33 tons of ivory over the course of the next year.

Fighting poaching on many levels

Sholley says the publicized destruction of these ivory stockpiles is an important step to take, on a different level.

“The destruction of these stockpiles are taking place basically where there is huge demand for ivory, so I think the awareness that this created particularly in those parts of Asia is very, very important,” says Sholley.

The fight against the poaching of animals and the world trade in their body parts requires a holistic approach, he says. This involves supporting enforcement in game parks and on national borders on the ground.

The mobilization includes using sniffer dogs at airports to detect ivory and rhino horns that are being exported out of African countries, as well as policy dialogues between African countries, China and Vietnam.  He says the multi-pronged approach must succeed in order to have a positive effect on the future of elephants.

The wildlife expert says Africa lost about 35,000 elephants and 1,000 rhino last year. “In the context of existing populations, those aren’t sustainable numbers,” he says.