Is the Tide Turning for Elephants?

Elephant Ivory

By David Barritt

Chief campaigner, Network for Animals

July 2018 was an historic month for African elephants. With the help of its supporters, the Animal Survival International (formerly Political Animal Lobby)’s (ASI’s) sister organisation, Network for Animals (NFA), worked with a team of professionals from South African National Parks to relocate an entire family of 27 elephants. The elephants were moved to a part of the Addo Elephant National Park where they will be safe from poachers and free to live out their lives as the highly intelligent, self-aware and socially complex animals that we know them to be.

What made the elephant relocation even more meaningful was that Network for Animals’ founder, Brian Davies, who also started ASI, was there to watch the elephants released into their new home, striding off into the African bush, safe and secure in a part of South Africa where elephants last roamed 150 years ago.

The work done by Network for Animals and its supporters comes at an important time for elephants − a time when the tide appears to be turning against the trade in ivory.

In the United Kingdom, for example, the government finally bowed to pressure from the Labour Party and animal welfare campaigners to introduce a ban on ivory sales. Although it is long overdue, the Ivory Bill is welcome. It is hoped it will go some way towards stemming the slaughter of elephants across Africa, especially in countries that are affected by wars and conflicts that ensure prime conditions for the poaching of elephants and other wildlife species.

Once the Ivory Bill is passed, it will be illegal to trade ivory artefacts – the ornaments and trinkets that are so often the reason for the brutal killing of elephants – in the UK. Previous bans only applied to ivory produced after 1947. The ban will ensure there is no value for modern day ivory and the tusks of recently poached elephants cannot enter the UK market.

Campaigners hope that the European Union will follow the UK’s lead and that the Ivory Bill will strengthen the UK’s hand, enabling the country to play a leading role in pressuring countries in southeast Asia with a history of ivory trade – in particular Thailand, Viet Nam, Japan, Laos and Myanmar – to also commit to closing their domestic ivory markets.

It is significant that the UK’s Ivory Bill comes in the same year that China shut down the last of its licensed ivory carving factories and retail outlets, and only a few months after the Hong Kong Legislative Council voted to end the ivory trade in Hong Kong.

Is the tide turning for elephants? Can we look forward to a future in which these iconic African animals are free to roam in wild areas, safe from the rifles and chain saws of poachers and appreciated by generation after generation of animal lovers? ASI will do everything in its power to pursue this vision and with the help of its supporters, it will continue to play a leading role in elephant conservation in Africa.

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