Skip to main content

How to end the elephant slaughter

By Cristian Samper, Patrick Bergin, Peter Seligmann, Azzedine Downes, and Carter Roberts
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Fri September 27, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Writers: Elephant poaching in Africa helps finance armed gangs and rebel armies
  • They say this destabilizes nations, wipes out elephant population for ivory trade
  • They say elephant range states, ivory consumer nations, NGOs have new plan to push back
  • Writers: Stopping ivory demand by changing cultural behavior will help end poaching

Editor's note: Cristián Samper is the president and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society; Patrick Bergin is the president and CEO of the African Wildlife Foundation; Peter Seligmann is chairman and CEO of Conservation International; Azzedine Downes is the president and CEO of the International Fund for Animal Welfare; and Carter Roberts is the president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund

(CNN) -- Dzanga Bai is a magical place of natural wonder. It is on the Central African Republic's southwest border with the Republic of Congo and is widely considered the most important gathering place for forest elephants in the entire Congo basin. For decades -- and probably centuries -- elephants by the hundreds from across the region have congregated there, reconnecting with family members and drinking the mineral-rich waters.

Last May, a group of heavily armed men, believed to be linked to the Seleka rebel group, entered Dzanga Bai and slaughtered a reported two dozen elephants.

By the time Dzanga Bai's elephant carcasses were discovered, the perpetrators were gone, leaving in their wake a horrific crime scene of heads carved up for their precious ivory. Tusks like these, typically destined for Asian markets, where growing demand has quickly driven up prices, have in recent years presented a new opportunity for quick cash to finance the operations of armed gangs from the Central African Republic east to Somalia. It is now widely understood that groups ranging from Darfur's Janjaweed to Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army have turned to this revenue source.

"The devastating poaching crisis that has gripped Africa over the past decade has left multiple tragedies in its wake..."

The growth of these groups, with funds from illegal wildlife trafficking, is destabilizing African governments even as it devastates populations of elephants, rhinos and other high value wildlife. Operating through terror and intimidation, roving rebel armies undermine democratic governance and responsible resource management while devastating regional economies through disruptions to tourism and local livelihoods.

In meetings in the United States, Asia and Africa this year, we have listened as leaders have shared their growing anxiety. The new poachers are tied to criminal syndicates. Rifles and machetes have been enhanced or replaced with helicopters, night visions goggles, sophisticated telecommunications and automatic weapons. Local communities are terrified and national governments fear losing large swaths of territory to these gangs.

Out of these conversations has emerged a challenge to the world—from African nations--to stop buying ivory. Representatives of the governments of Botswana, Cote d'Ivoire, Gabon, Liberia, Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda, along with the international nongovernmental organizations we represent, have gathered in New York this week to announce an important commitment through the Clinton Global Initiative. Together, we have three straightforward goals: (1) stop the killing; (2) stop the trafficking; and (3) stop the demand.

To stop the killing and the trafficking, the international community can help states that make up the present range of the African elephant by providing equipment, training and expertise. President Obama recently dedicated $10 million for law enforcement efforts and the creation of a wildlife trafficking task force at the highest levels of the U.S. government, complementing existing U.S. initiatives. European and other nations, along with private citizens, need to join him in committing emergency resources to enforcement efforts in elephant landscapes and ivory trafficking ports.

Kenya's first lady saves elephants
Kenya's first lady saves elephants
Saving Kenya's elephants

Despite a ban on international trade in ivory imposed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora in 1989, domestic sales remain legal in a number of countries, including the United States. Because these legal markets can provide a front for laundering illegal ivory into the trade, moratoria on domestic sales of ivory are also a vital part of anti-trafficking efforts.

Stopping the demand requires new strategies. Removing the prestige associated with buying ivory requires creative new uses of social media and other tools to change consumption behavior in China and elsewhere. Once the demand for ivory is curtailed there will be little financial incentive for criminal groups to continue elephant poaching and trafficking.

Yet because carved ivory is a centuries-old cultural tradition, this change will take time -- something the world's dwindling elephant populations don't have. That is why African nations with the greatest remaining elephant populations have begun to call for nations across the globe to stop selling and purchasing ivory until all African elephant populations have recovered to healthy levels.

The devastating poaching crisis that has gripped Africa over the past decade has left multiple tragedies in its wake: the loss of roughly three-quarters of all remaining African forest elephants; the murder of hundreds of courageous wildlife guards; regional government resources stretched to their limits as villagers across sub-Saharan Africa live in daily terror.

The initiative launched this week by representatives of elephant range states, ivory consumer nations, and our organizations has been endorsed by an unprecedented group of conservation partners that include the African Parks Network, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Frankfurt Zoological Society, the Freeland Foundation, the International Conservation Caucus Foundation, National Geographic, Save the Elephants, TRAFFIC, WildAid, and Wildlife Direct.

This effort is our best bet at saving these majestic, highly intelligent and socially complex creatures while bringing much-needed stability to governments whose hopes for a brighter future require that armed gangs no longer operate within their borders. Before it's too late, let's stop the killing, stop the trafficking and stop the demand.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of its authors.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 9:48 PM EDT, Sat October 25, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT