In the 1970s and 1980s, the trade of ivory was legal. Poachers killed these elephants in mass proportions, selling every bit of the resources, from the ivory tusks, to the skins. The problem with this trade was that as Asian markets began to fuel this trade, illegal methods to quickly obtain great numbers of ivory began to be implemented. This trade allowed more and more to profit from the ivory trade. “Ninety percent of the ivory traded was illegal” (Hutchens, 935). In response to this threat of the quickly depleting populations, countries began to ban the export and import starting in 1988 with the United States. West Germany and twelve other countries followed by banning the import of ivory goods. Kenya banned the export of ivory goods and began to implement processes that would make it harder on poachers to obtain the ivory. (Somerville, 119) However, not all countries agreed to make efforts to end the trade of ivory. Hong Kong and Japan did not ban the import of ivory materials and Zimbabwe and South Africa continued to export ivory.
Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna
“In 1988 Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) imposed a world wide ban on the trade of ivory.” (Keller, 394). This leads to the question of “To what extent did the Ban on Ivory affect the population of African elephants.”
Beginning with examining the laws put in place; CITES placed African Elephants as an Appendix II, namely “all species which although not necessarily now threatened with extinction may become so unless trade in specimens of such species is subject to strict regulation.” (CITES, 27). While being placed in this category didn’t mean that the ban on ivory was illegal altogether, it did mean that states now had to set quotas for the amount of ivory they exported/imported. After ridiculously high quotas were set, for the economic benefit of the traders, the population of African elephants was rapidly being depleted and the world was in an uproar.
The problem was brought back to discussion in 1989 where Kenya proposed that the protection of elephants be brought up to an Appendix I, where ban on ivory would be illegal on all fronts. Although some countries tried to withdraw from this international agreement because of the loss of profits they would endure, due to international pressure and the shrinking of the market for ivory, the countries caved and agreed to follow laws placed on the trade of ivory. (Glennon, 4)
South Africa and Zimbabwe
Moving forward from the CITES ban on trade, one further approach was adopted. This approach is named “sustainable use” policy , where elephants can be used as a resource, rather than simply preserved. (Somerville, 119) Because of the costly amount it takes to preserve elephants, and the fact that elephants can cause harm to communities though trampling crops and taking well needed water, some African countries, including Botswana, Zimbabwe, and other South African States allow their citizens to control elephant populations to help pay for preservations for these endangered animals. (Glennon, 142) South Africa and Zimbabwe begin to use a method called culling, “the killing of some elephants in order to ensure that the population does not grow to unsustainable levels, to maintain their elephant populations.” (Glennon, 112) Countries utilize culling to save elephants and their habitats. Culling also provides elephant resources, such as elephant meat, to the people. The problem with culling; however, is that ivory an be stockpiled and add pressure to the ivory trade markets yet again. (Somerville, 207)
The laws implemented to attempt to increase the population of African elephants, assisted in extinguishing the world’s demand for ivory. “Initial data after the 1989 ban showed a sharp decrease in the price of ivory.” (Vail, 227) “In the Central Africa Republic, the price of ivory dropped to 65 percent less than the price in mid 1989.” (Vail, 244) Due to the laws implemented, stockpiling was used and ivory was beginning to be built up, specifically due to the Sustainable Use effort. In 1990, Botswana and Zimbabwe lobbied for the elephant populations of their countries to be moved from an Appendix I to an Appendix II, so that the sale of ivory was legal, yet limited. This was granted and sales of their stockpiled ivory immediately began with Japan. While some of this money was used to fuel preservation efforts, the money also went back into the poaching industry and sponsored high tech hunting technologies to increase the amount of elephants being killed.
The international community no longer has a unified effort to ban the trade on ivory and the market for this ivory is renewed. While the demand for ivory has been on the climb ever since the mid 1990s, the economic prosperity of South African countries also has been on the climb. This goes to show that economics and world relations play a large role in decisions of nation states. The countries’ greed fueled a desire to continue to export ivory, but when seeing that it hurt political relations with other nations who they traded with, as well as not having a large enough market to continue to export, the countries agreed to stop the trade of ivory. The efforts brought temporary relief to the problem surrounding the African elephant population, but the elephants’ population is once again being depleted. As long as there is an open market and ivory, there will be trade regardless of the population of the elephants.
Population of African Elephants
In conclusion, the extent to which policy affected the population of African elephants, with regard to the trade of ivory, was minimal. Laws didn’t provide a fix, but rather a temporary solution to appease a rise in concern over the population of this endangered species. The help that came from these policies had temporary relief to a much larger problem. In the end, the social and economic concerns of the countries involved in this problem, will always come before the good of these animals, and therefore policy cannot come from outside organizations, such as CITES, but must come from the governments of the countries themselves. Until governments decide that this problem is important to them, international policy will never be impactful to the aid of this dying species.