OPINION: In the Ivory War, seizures are necessary but not sufficient
In barely a week, Kenyan officials in the port town of Mombasa seized two shipments of ivory weighing more than 4.5 tons combined (Kenya Seizes More Smuggled Ivory Destined for Malaysia, July 9, Reuters). It is estimated that the ivory is the result of hundreds of poached elephants; some suspected to be over 50 years old based on their tusk size. To put this in perspective, an estimated 25,000 elephants are killed each year for their ivory.
Like any business, the ivory trade has an acceptable margin of loss easily absorbed within high profit margins. While seizures and law enforcement are important, the real solution to the poaching crisis lies in reducing the demand for ivory, primarily in China and other Asian consuming countries. When the 1989 international ivory trade ban came into place amid global media coverage, this was achieved and elephants enjoyed a respite until the booming Chinese economy created a new wave of consumers.
Were China to ban ivory sales and even a small percentage of the resources currently all focused on enforcement, temporarily diverted to demand reduction, we might see another end to the ivory wars, rather than an escalation.
Peter Knights is Co-Founder and Executive Director of WildAid, the only international organization focused on addressing the demand for endangered species products.