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Why should Britain be shamed for its ivory exports?

Kate Pirie By Kate Pirie
15 Aug 2017
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Once you have seen elephants in the wild, spent time with them observing and noting how they interact as a family and how the matriarch leads the family with her many years of experience, you see just how special these animals are.

They are complex and share the same emotions as people. Elephants work with us such as in Asia when hauling logs, and are in many cases mistreated. Yet they are intelligent and have incredible personalities and feelings.

I am passionate about elephants and have personally spent thousands of hours watching and observing them in the wild. Having grown up and then worked for many years in national parks, elephant sightings and visits were a daily occurrence. Every day is different, every meeting is different and each day a blessing to be able to see them.

There are very special organizations and researchers out there looking to safe guard elephants such as African Parks who have just completed one of the largest elephant translocations. This took place in Malawi where around 520 elephants were moved by truck in two stages to Nkhotakota Reserve.


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This is a beautiful reserve with the most beautiful pastel colored forests. When I last visited, which was just before the first elephants arrived, there were signs of the few elephants in the park but their numbers were certainly very limited at around 100.

This boost of newly arrived families has changed and improved the park. The translocated elephants were moved from two parks in the south of Malawi that were over stocked. So in fact these other two parks and the other wildlife in them benefit as sustainable numbers now live in each park.

Because of the previous heavy poaching in the park, African Parks have taken over the management and now fenced it, so poaching numbers have fallen drastically and new security and community programs are changing this park into a success story so the wildlife is now safe in Nkhotakota, especially the elephants.



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"This successful translocation is a pivotal moment for Malawi," said Peter Fearnhead, head of African Parks.

"Rehoming more than 500 elephants, and knowing they will thrive in Nkhotakota, is a story of hope and survival, and a real example of what is possible with good collaboration."

Apart from Malawi, some of the best places and countries to see elephants are Botswana, specifically Moremi and Chobe (about 70 000 in the latter), Hwange, Gonarezhou and Mana Pools in Zimbabwe, Tsavo in Kenya, and South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi in Zambia.

There are also elephant orphanages across Africa that do the most incredible dedicated work to raise elephants both lost and orphaned in the wild. The most well-known of these is one we as a company and personally support – David Sheldrick Elephant Trust (and its’ Orphanage). No visit to Kenya is complete without a visit to this most worthwhile organization.



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However, elephants are under severe threat – from more than 10 million 100 years ago, numbers across Africa and Asia have plummeted to around 400 000 today. Other organizations worth supporting include Save the Elephants and Big Life.  The latter operates and supports 40 permanent outposts with rangers, trackers and tracker dogs, working in the Amboseli and Chyulu areas of Kenya. 

Without their incredible work, numbers of elephants and other wildlife would be far worse than it already is today. They work with local communities to prevent poaching and track and capture criminals, making sure that they are punished by law.

Feeding the voracious demand for ivory where the latest statistics (from Cities) have shown that the UK, was the largest exporter of ivory between 2010 and 2015. This is simply shocking from a country of animal lovers.

Britain was the world’s largest exporter of legal ivory between 2010 and 2015, as revealed by the Convention on international trade in endangered species (Cites).This is utterly shameful and whilst Boris Johnson has said he backs an ‘all-out ban’ on ivory sales, the government seems to be dragging its heels.



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What makes this even more appalling is that Mary Rice, from the Environmental Investigations Agency says: “The UK Government should stop issuing permits for all ivory exports with immediate effect, not least to show solidarity with the Hong Kong and Chinese governments which have both committed to closing their domestic ivory markets.”

“As well as fueling demand for ivory, the UK’s legal trade provides opportunities for the laundering of illegal ivory, both within the country and internationally,” Rice said.

The Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder who has campaigned on the issue, said: “This huge amount of trade going through the UK shames us all. It creates and sustains a market that needs to be shut down.

The government should recognize that this is crisis time for elephants. On our watch, we could see the extinction of the majority of elephants in most of their range countries. We have to stand up and say that this is not acceptable.”

Next year the UK is hosting an international conference on halting illegal wildlife trade . Having just celebrated World Elephant Day, more pressure should be put on the UK Government and others around the world. Extinction of this species is a real threat and would make this a much sadder world.



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