Signs That the Ivory Ban Is Working

Regarding the article "Why the Ivory Ban is Failing," March 20: The authors accuse the International Wildlife Coalition of having given a false impression that elephants were endangered. In fact, two independent scientific studies, one by more than 30 experts, concluded in 1989 that if poaching levels continued, elephants risked extinction throughout Africa within a few decades, despite the healthy populations in southern Africa. The ban has prevented that.

The authors say only that poaching has increased in some countries. They neglect to tell us that this followed a massive drop in poaching levels immediately after the ban, particularly in East Africa. Even with the increases, poaching is at a far lower level than it was before. In Kenya, for example, poaching has reportedly risen from 30 to 50 animals a year immediately after the ban to about 200 today - but compared with pre-ban levels of 2,000 to 4,000 a year, this is minor.

The authors cite a 1994 study that has been sharply criticized by a number of respected elephant biologists. But even that study failed to conclude that the ban was not working. Indeed, 70 percent of the African wildlife-management staff interviewed for the study support the ban.

The authors also state that Kenya's director of wildlife, David Western, has "radically reversed" his position on letting local communities benefit from wildlife use as a result of Zimbabwe's CAMPFIRE program. In fact, Kenya has had such programs in place since at least 1990. According to elephant biologist Cynthia Moss, Dr. Western does not intend to allow elephant hunting in Kenya and remains a strong supporter of the ban.

The majority of African countries with elephants strongly support the ban. Last October, President Nelson Mandela wrote in a South African magazine that his country's 1994 proposal to sell elephant hides "was withdrawn because it did not meet with the approval of other African nations."

Since 1989, support for the ban has increased in Africa, except in countries such as Zimbabwe and Namibia. In the magazine article, Mr. Mandela said his government, formerly an opponent of the ban, had made "a commitment to oppose any moves to reopen international commerce in ivory."

There is much more to be done for both the elephants and the people of Africa. But the ivory ban is not failing.

Ronald Orenstein Mississauga, Ontario

Project Director

International Wildlife Coalition

During the decade leading up to the January 1990 ivory ban, Africa was losing about 80,000 elephants a year to commercial poaching gangs. Since the implementation of the ban, overall losses have been cut to less than 10 percent of the pre-ban level. Quite a few elephant populations in Africa now are indicating initial signs of recovery, with modest increases in numbers, a return to natural behavior, and more stable demographics.

Figures reported in the article are not substantiated. The quoted price of $2,000 a kilo for black-market ivory has not been reported to either CITES (the endangered species treaty, which is responsible for implementing the ivory ban), or the Interpol Subgroup on Wildlife Crime, which monitors such trends. Reported prices tend to run between $5 and $30 per kilogram. The reported seizure of 2,500 shipments of contraband ivory is similarly unsubstantiated.

The authors infer that Kenya would support renewed ivory trade. This is not true. Kenya remains strongly opposed to renewed trade in ivory and intends to continue its policy of burning all stocks of confiscated ivory.

A South African proposal to reduce legal protection of its own elephant population and to reopen trade in certain "elephant products" was rejected by CITES at a 1994 meeting, after it became clear that more than 80 percent of the African elephant-range states confirmed the ivory trade ban's critical importance in the continued protection of their elephants. South African and Zimbabwean elephant conservation is not as successful as the authors suggest. I refer you to the January 1996 report of the South African Judicial Commission of Inquiry on matters involving South African involvement in the smuggling and marketing of black-market ivory.

Bill Clark Jerusalem

International Program Director

Friends of Animals (based in Connecticut)

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