An elephant may never forget, but people do, all too quickly

Posted: 01/12/2015 in Screwed

We had the poaching problem by the throat.  It was, well, not solved exactly, but at least it was working.  The herds were healing.  What happened?  Well, first let’s start at the beginning.

President Jimmy Carter signed an international treaty that tried something no one had tried before: providing funds for the protection of endangered species through the legal sale of poached items.  Here’s how it worked:  previously, when an illegal item was discovered, whether it was a truckload of rhino horns or a single whale’s tooth from your great-grandfather’s estate, it was destroyed.  Put on a bonfire and burned.  While this made for a good photo-op, it did little to help the animals that were being killed.

After the treaty was signed, any goods confiscated were sold under special license.  All the money from the sales had to go back into providing protection for the species involved.  Zebra skins brought in funds for hiring more rangers to protect zebras, elephant tusks provided funds for buying up land where the elephants could live, etc.  Only licensed and regulated dealers could purchase the endangered byproducts, and records had to be kept and available for review at all times.  Each dealer had to provide a certificate for each sale, whether to the public or another dealer, and the certificate had to document what the item was, where it was obtained, and the license number under which it was purchased.  If the amount of stuff you bought didn’t tally with the stuff you sold, there were heavy fines and penalties — including jail time.  In America, all whale products were still considered de facto illegal, but a clause gave the owner time to provide proof that the item was obtained before a certain date (i.e., it was an antique that had been legal at the time) so that you could keep it.  But you couldn’t sell it.  It could only be handed down through the family.  Or it could be turned in to the feds to be destroyed.

And the experiment was working.  Elephant populations were on the rise for the first time in decades.  Rhinos and other often poached species had more and more rangers providing protection from poachers and their herds were recovering.  Through public pressure, the US got China, Russia, and many usually reluctant big markets to join Africa in signing the treaty.  Things were looking good.

Then the United States held a presidential election.  Ronald Reagan was elected.  One of the first things he did was negate the treaty.  China and Russia quickly followed.  Poaching skyrocketed as funding for their protection disappeared.  Several animal populations once again slid towards extinction.

Which  brings us to last week.  California has proposed Bill AB 96.  It’s aimed at strictly curtailing elephant ivory sales (i.e., there will be no legal elephant ivory sales in the state).  While it doesn’t address the issue of international trading, it is, at least, a start.  Unfortunately, it’s too little, too late.  Not even the earlier treaty could save the elephant population now — which I find to be a great loss.  Elephants are magnificent beings with giant brains and a complicated society.  And soon they’ll join many other species in the hall of extinction.

Eventually, mankind will join them.  I’m not one who’d grieve over that, but it’ll be too late for the elephants by then.


Be seeing you.

  1. PiedType says:

    Hard to “Like” this. The idea of extinguishing any species makes me sad beyond words. My personal favorites are tigers — likely to be gone in my lifetime.

    • Number VI says:

      The last estimate I saw on wild tigers was 3200. That’s not many when you’re trying to maintain DNA diversity world-wide. Free elephants are about twice that number and the experts are already saying the species is doomed.

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