G8 or Too Late: G8 Must Tackle Poaching Crisis Now

By Philip Mansbridge, Care for the Wild CEO

“How shockingly destructive and historically shameful it would be if we did nothing while a great species was criminally slaughtered into extinction”. These were the words of Senator John Kerry when he chaired a Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on ivory poaching in May 2012.

Today the illegal wildlife trade is worth in excess of $10 billion annually and the surging demand for ivory from the rapidly growing economies of China, Vietnam and Thailand resulted in over 40,000 elephants being killed in Africa in 2012, or one every 15 minutes.

In Africa the ivory trade is not only leading to an environmental catastrophe, but it has also become intertwined with growing poverty, ethnic rivalry, terrorism and civil war in countries such as Somalia, Sudan and the Congo.

The worst aspect of this tragedy has been the failure of the international community to recognise the need to assist African nations in tackling the ivory poaching crisis from both an enforcement and demand perspective.

In 2010 following the Conference on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), all the African nations with elephant populations agreed an African Elephant Action Plan. This unique initiative would for the first time see full co-operation between elephant states in order to stop the illegal killing of elephants and trade in their products.

Three years on and despite a huge increase in ivory poaching, the plan has been put on hold as only around $300,000 has been pledged by the international community for a $97 million budget.

In 2012 the G8 Nations spent over $90 billion on international aid, much of which was spent on humanitarian projects in Africa. However none of these funds have been used to tackle ivory poaching. If G8 Nations were willing to pledge the equivalent of just 10 cents for each of their citizens, the $97 million budget for the African Elephant Action Plan could be met.

As President Obama looks towards his legacy in a second term beyond the gridlock of Washington politics, he has an opportunity to focus on Africa and how the United States can lead efforts to stop ivory poaching. Unlike gun control, immigration or climate change policy, stopping the slaughter of Africa’s elephant herds will receive strong bi-partisan support in Congress and with relatively small amounts of money could have huge benefits for international security in Africa and around the world.

The President should join forces with the British Prime Minister David Cameron and go to the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland in June calling on G8 members to pledge a small fraction of their aid budgets to fund the African Elephant Action plan and turn the tide against the ivory poachers
He could then make a trip to his father’s homeland in Kenya and visit one of the National Parks where rangers have died protecting elephants from poachers, to show that the US is leading international community efforts to stop this senseless slaughter. Saving Africa’s elephants for future generations would be a worthy legacy of America’s first President of an African father.

Note – this blog can also be seen on the Huffington Post.