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Africans Back Ban on Ivory Sales. Supporters of moratorium also want international aid to help save the elephants

By Robert M. PressStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 26, 1989



NAIROBI, KENYA

AN acceleration in poaching has African and Western conservationists taking a fresh look at ways to protect the continent's elephants. A key African official leading preservation efforts has just made a surprise endorsement of one of the boldest plans under consideration - a selective, worldwide moratorium on the purchase and sale of ivory.

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The idea of a moratorium on ivory trade is not a new one. But until now it has not had African backing. African governments make millions of dollars each year selling ivory. But they can make more from tourists if the elephants survive, African and other conservationists argue.

In the past 10 years, poaching has cut Africa's elephant population in half - from about 1.5 million to around 750,000 - wildlife experts say. At that rate, they point out, there could easily be only small groups of elephants left in another 15 to 20 years.

``We have to ask the world to give the elephant a breathing space,'' says Dr. Perez Olindo, chairman of an Africa-wide group studying ways to save the elephants. ``Stop the trade,'' he says.

In addition to a five-year moratorium, Dr. Olindo is calling for more international support for African anti-poaching efforts to combat those who would not abide by such a ban.

Olindo's announcement is considered important by international conservationists because he was speaking as chairman of the African Elephant Working Group, composed of officials from African nations with elephants. The African nations' cooperation is considered indispensable for any moratorium on the ivory trade to be effective.

Olindo says his statement represents an ``emerging consensus'' of the group, which has been studying how to slow the loss of elephants at the hands of poachers. Suggestions from members and their staffs will be reviewed at a meeting of member nations in Botswana in July.

Olindo was also, until last week, the head of Kenya's wildlife department. The new director, Dr. Richard Leakey, son of well-known anthropologists of the same name, says: ``This is a matter the Kenyan government has not yet made a decision on. I personally would favor a ban on all ivory trade. If we can get some of the big consumer countries behind this, it will be very positive.''

If accompanied by an increase in Western support for anti-poaching efforts, and a public relations campaign against ivory purchase, a moratorium could help slow the rapid destruction of Africa's elephants, says Iain Douglas-Hamilton, who works here for the World Wildlife Fund. ``Without that, a moratorium becomes window dressing,'' he says.

Olindo is calling for at least $21 million in new international support for African anti-poaching efforts. He urges conservation organizations around the world to do more than just complain about the loss of elephants.

``Instead of screaming in our ears, will they please put their checks on the table?'' he says. ``Conservation is not cheap.''

Poachers already have shot many of the older elephants, with the bigger tusks. Now the rate of killing is speeding up as poachers kill younger and younger elephants with smaller tusks, to keep up with world demand for ivory.