International demand for ivory and rhino horn is fuelling the shocking decline in the elephant and rhino populations throughout Africa, while the European Union just recently showed that international trade loopholes persist.
But now, also Somalia signed on and joined The Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI), an African-led program aimed at ending ivory trade once and for all.
The Minister for Livestock and Rangelands, Said Hussein Iid, said Somalia’s rich environmental history had for long been overshadowed by the long-drawn civil war.
In 1991 the Somali civil war was triggered by foreign masters of different camps, pitching the Somali clans against each other at the strategically important Horn of Africa, and caused that no peace could prevail – neither for the Somali people nor for the elephants. A similar situation we find in Sudan and Congo.
“However, it is our hope that by joining the EPI, we can work to slowly rebuild this history and join together with other African nations to stop the harrowing consequences that elephant poaching and trafficking is bringing to our continent,” Hussein said in Nairobi, Kenya.
Somalia – a country of rich biodiversity – became thereby the 14th African nation to sign on to the EPI since its inception in 2014.
Wildlife trafficking is the fourth largest international criminal activity after weapons, drug and human trafficking, experts state. This illegal commerce brings in a staggering 20 billion dollars each year, of which three billion is accounted for by ivory.
In addition “legal ivory exports” from the EU, especially to China and Hong Kong, as well as trade among member states, likely fuel demand and facilitate laundering of poached ivory into the trade system.
Criminals kill an estimated 25,000 African elephants every year with some evidence suggesting that if poaching and trade persists at this level, most African elephant populations will disappear within the next decade.
Likewise the Horn of Africa nation had seen its wildlife populations decline rapidly since the onset of the civil war in 1991 with today only small pockets of unaffected wildlife habitat remaining in some parts of the country.
Constant pressure from overgrazing, charcoal production and export, poaching and an open ivory transit market, coupled with a 25-year armed conflict, have created a wildlife desert in a region that was once one of the most important biodiversity hotspots in Africa with wildlife populations, including the elephants, protected by law since 1973.
But ten years after the Somali wildlife protection laws came into force, a foreign mastered elephant slaughter in the dry season of 1983 with aircraft support from Kenya for the spotting of the herds and a military-style ground-operation dropped Somalia’s elephant population from over 80,000 to a mere 7-9,000.
The triad of fake international “conservationists” turned ivory trade consultants, corrupt military and political officials and battle-hardened, impoverished shooters from the region willing to serve the top-criminals and kingpins of the global ivory trade had focused on Somalia as part of a wider agenda. 90% of Somalia’s elephant population was wiped out in just that one dry season and the Somali elephants lived as ghosts with the remaining elephant groups surviving in the inaccessible swamp-lands of Southern Somalia.
To protect the elephants and other important wildlife populations, including Somalia’s endemic species, a proper wildlife department was established in 1987, which turned the tide. Somalia also became again a pro-active member-state of CITES, the United Nations Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora.
Subsequently it was Somalia’s proposal for an ivory moratorium, elaborated with the help of ECOTERRA Intl. and then presented and proposed by the Republic of Somalia at the CITES conference to the state parties, which was adopted in 1989 against the will of the trophy-collectors, arms-for ivory-traders and corrupted state-officials.
This total ivory-trade ban had a worldwide positive impact, prices dropped rock-bottom, criminals focused on other “businesses” and most importantly: the elephant populations specifically in Africa recovered.
While in 1979, approximately 1.3 million elephants lived on the African continent, until 1989 some 70,000 elephants had been killed annually in Africa and half the population had been wiped out during that decade for the ivory trade, declining the African elephant populations to 624,000.
But after 1989 and during the ban, elephants began to rebuild their populations in Africa. Likewise the Somali elephant population recovered magnificently due to a serious effort in wildlife protection since 1987 from the ground up to the head of state and after the global ivory moratorium was enforced.
“It was the only time of peace and population increase for elephants in the last 200 years,” states ECOTERRA spokesperson Hans-Juergen Duwe.
But when the ban was partially lifted in 1997, under pressure from Japan, poaching began again in earnest – also in Somalia. Trafficked ivory from Somalia, Kenya, Congo, Sudan found its way into the African sales-chambers from where a decade later, in 2008, CITES allowed legalized ivory sales from three southern African countries to Japan and China.
That gave a signal to the criminal syndicates and a massive increase in elephant poaching was the result. Today less than 500,000 African elephants remain in the wild and the illicit ivory trade has more than doubled since 2007. It is now over three times greater than it was in 1998.
To counter this trend 27 African elephant range countries that are part of the African Elephant Coalition along with the U.S.A. and China submitted five complementary proposals in April 2016 to CITES to protect elephants, including the closing down of all domestic ivory markets.
“African countries are blazing a trail to shut down the global ivory market,” says Vera Weber, president of the Swiss-based Franz Weber Fondation, a partner organization of the African Elephant Coalition. “The EU needs to support their initiative and demonstrate its commitment to the world by shutting down its own market.”
Unlike Belgium, some EU nations—the Czech Republic, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Sweden, and the U.K.—have stopped issuing ivory export certificates and have called on Brussels to make this an EU-wide policy, but the bureaucrats of the EU have failed so far to follow through.
Somalia’s signing of the EPI is therefore a good sign ahead of the upcoming Johannesburg Conference of the Parties to CITES, and a new global ban on all ivory sales must again become part of this multilateral treaty of the United Nations, if their effort to protect endangered plants and animals shall be taken serious.
The EPI was launched by leaders from Botswana, Chad, Ethiopia, Gabon and Tanzania during the London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade in February 2014.
Uganda, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Angola, Congo and the Gambia have since also joined the EPI.
The only conservation measure that worked was when international trade in ivory was banned for a period of eight years beginning in 1989, ECOTERRA Intl. and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) agree.
The new moratorium to globally ban all ivory trade and to stop the elephant slaughter must go hand in hand with a larger effort to bring peace to the people and the elephants. Local communities living with the elephants must be at the forefront and supported to rescue and maintain their natural heritage. At the same time the militarization of the wildlands must stop while efforts to fight the international criminal syndicates and their local corrupt counterparts, who often sit on political or military chairs, must be stepped up globally.
However, and no matter how many rangers a government deploys or what technology is employed, the real protection efforts will be futile unless the at present still impoverished and often displaced local communities will become again the key stakeholders in their ancestral lands and in the protection and sustenance of their wildlife.
As hard as this might be to understand for the players in the conversation or tourism industries, but without the support of the indigenous peoples, who have been alienated from their wildlife by colonialism, failed policies, politics and money, the further decline of any and finally all wildlife populations will not be stopped.
Good governance in elephant range states is therefore essential and we have an obligation to maintain the integrity of ecosystems that elephants and indigenous peoples inhabit, while we must take realistic account of the needs of elephants in the planning and management of protected areas.
The total global trade ban on ivory is therefore only the first step to keep at least the criminals out of the equation, but rapid measures to enable local communities to maintain their healthy elephant populations in undisturbed habitat is the larger task ahead.