The Clinton Global Initiative is working with conservation groups
and African governments to step up efforts save one of the planet’s most majestic beasts - the African elephant, which is critically endangered. In 2012 alone, over 35,000 were killed by poachers for their ivory tusks.
The Wildlife Conservation Society'
s John Calvelli outlined the consortium's three-pronged, $80 million strategy for reporters in New York.
“In brief: to stop the killing,” he said. “Funds will be used to support national governments to scale up anti-poaching enforcement at 50 priority elephant sites including hiring and supporting an additional 3,100 park guards. To stop the trafficking: Anti-trafficking efforts will be increased by strengthening intelligence networks and penalties for violation and adding training and sniffer dog teams at ten key transit point. Stop the demand. New demand ruction efforts will be implemented at ten consumer markets over the next three years."
The challenge of catching poachers in the act of killing elephants is complicated by a lack of proper funding for rangers, who sometimes get more money from bribes to ignore the law than they do from local governments to enforce it. Much of their equipment is broken or outdated. Elizabeth Bennett, also of the Wildlife Conservation Society, says the consortium's funds will increase salaries and pay for new technology, like GPS units for the rangers.
“When they’re going around they can record what poaching signs they see,” Bennett said. “They record what elephant signs they see, and what signs of any problems they might see, and that all gets fed into a central database to see where the real problems are and therefore where the enforcement effort needs to be.”
When many people think of poachers, they imagine a lone villager heading out into the bush looking to make a quick kill for easy money. But Patrick Bergin of the African Wildlife Foundation
says going after the little guy has limited results.
“For every one who is apprehended there may be 15 or 20 other people behind him ready to take his place,” said Bergen. “That is not an effective strategy. We need to go higher up the food chain. There are people commissioning this and trading it. These are criminal gangs. This is international crime and this is organized crime.”
And fighting that, Bergin says, requires a range of national legislation that may not necessarily be directly related to poaching.
“Immigration charges. Arms charges. Money laundering charges,” he said. “Movement of goods over borders charges. And they can confiscate bank accounts, houses, aircraft. This is where it really becomes punitive. I’m allowing someone to charter a helicopter for me. ‘They seem a little shady but they pay cash. I’m going to let it go.’ ‘No. Your helicopter may not be coming back.”
Carter Roberts, president of the World Wildlife Fund
says stopping the demand for ivory is also essential.
“And that means making people in places like China and Thailand and even the United States, aware of what it means to buy an ivory product, where it came from and what the consequences are,” Carter said. “We’ve seen people's minds change about diamonds, about fur, and I believe that we can change the way people look at these products too.”
Jane Goodall, the British anthropologist best known for her pioneering field work with chimpanzees, has also spent time with wild elephant herds
. She told the news conference that compassion, not just policy, is also critical to ending the slaughter.
“If you once watch young elephants playing, splashing each other having fun in the water, then you realize that like so many other creatures, they have emotions similar to ours,” said Goodall. “Then you realize it’s not just that we face extinction of a species. It’s that this is causing unbearable suffering to some very amazing animals with whom we share, or should be sharing, this planet.”
Organizers of the initiative recognize that it will take more than marquee names, conservation groups and money to end the ivory trade. African governments must work with local communities to recognize that it is in their economic and moral interest to protect the world’s largest land mammal living in their midst.