Skip to main content

Elephants slaughtered for trinkets and terrorism

By Rob Portman
updated 1:38 AM EST, Sat February 8, 2014
An elephant walks with her infant in the Amboseli Game Reserve in Kenya. The International Fund for Animal Welfare says 2012 had the highest toll of elephants' lives in decades. Between January and March 2012, at least 50% of the elephants in Cameroon's Bouba Ndjida National Park were slaughtered for their ivory. Most illegal ivory is destined for Asia, in particular China, where it has soared in value as an investment and is coveted as "white gold." An elephant walks with her infant in the Amboseli Game Reserve in Kenya. The International Fund for Animal Welfare says 2012 had the highest toll of elephants' lives in decades. Between January and March 2012, at least 50% of the elephants in Cameroon's Bouba Ndjida National Park were slaughtered for their ivory. Most illegal ivory is destined for Asia, in particular China, where it has soared in value as an investment and is coveted as "white gold."
HIDE CAPTION
Ivory's tragic price
Ivory's tragic price
Ivory's tragic price
Ivory's tragic price
Ivory's tragic price
Ivory's tragic price
Ivory's tragic price
Ivory's tragic price
Ivory's tragic price
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rob Portman: The world almost killed off elephants completely before the ban on ivory in 1989
  • Portman: Poaching has returned with a vengeance, fueled by demand for ivory in China
  • Ivory trade raises money for a wing of al Qaeda and Lord's Resistance Army terrorism
  • Portman: Tens of thousands of elephants killed a year; we need to strengthen legislation

Editor's note: Rob Portman, a Republican, is a U.S. senator from Ohio.

(CNN) -- The African elephant, one of the world's most majestic animals, is in danger. In the early 1900s, 5 million elephants roamed the African continent. Then the ivory trade drove them to the brink of extinction, with 90% of African elephants killed for the ivory in their tusks.

In 1989, the world reacted, imposing a ban on the international trade in ivory passed by the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Elephant populations stabilized. But today, driven by growing demand for ivory ornaments and carvings in Asia, particularly in China, elephant poaching has returned with a vengeance.

Rob Portman
Rob Portman

The largest slaughter in one year since the 1989 ban was passed happened in 2012, with up to 35,000 elephants killed. This adds up to nearly 100 a day. Tens of thousands are killed every year. Without action, the day may come when this magnificent creature is known only in history books.

Estimates say if elephants continue to be slaughtered at today's rates, the creatures could be extinct in a decade. Not only do elephants die. The wildlife rangers who try to protect them from poachers are being killed.

The illicit trade in ivory -- "white gold" -- is a billion dollar industry, and because it is illegal, it tends to attract some very bad actors. It is blood ivory: Al-Shabaab, a wing of al Qaeda based in Africa that is responsible for continued instability in Somalia, is known to finance its operations through the poaching of elephants. Al-Shabaab raises an estimated $600,000 a month through the ivory trade. The Lord's Resistance Army, another terrorist group infamous for forcing children to fight in its ranks, also engages in poaching and trafficking of elephant ivory.

Al-Shabaab raises an estimated $600,000 a month through the ivory trade.
Rob Portman

Stopping the ivory trade has become not only a matter of conservation but one of national security and international stability.

Last year, the United Nations issued a report warning that elephant poaching is the worst it has been in a decade, while ivory seizures are at their highest levels since 1989. Last summer, President Barack Obama issued an executive order recognizing that the poaching of protected species and the illicit trade in ivory has become an international crisis that the United States must take a leading role in combating.

Saving elephants and other threatened species is a cause that cuts across partisan lines and international boundaries. We all have a part to play.

It starts in our personal lives.

The ivory trade prospers because there is a demand for luxury goods fashioned from it. As consumers, we should never buy products made with ivory and should encourage others to be mindful that their purchases are not illegally sourced through trafficking. And we should continue to shine a spotlight on the problem of illegal poaching and the threat it poses to African elephants and other species.

Chasing elephant poachers in Congo

There are actions our government can take, as well. As co-chairman of the U.S. Senate International Conservation Caucus, I have worked with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to educate members of Congress on these ongoing problems and introduce legislation that authorizes proven conservation programs and directs resources to the international effort to dismantle the machinery of illegal poaching.

How illegal ivory funds terror overseas
Saving Kenya's elephants

The Conservation Reform Act is part of this effort. If passed, it would streamline and increase the effectiveness of our existing international conservation efforts. I am also working to reauthorize the Saving Vanishing Species Stamp, which raises funds for the protection of threatened animals and their habitat at no cost to the U.S. taxpayer.

Over the years, we have watched as the actions of a few shortsighted, malicious and greedy people have nearly destroyed whole species. If we act now, we can make sure that the African elephant doesn't become another sad entry on a long list of animals we can never bring back.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rob Portman.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:17 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
updated 10:05 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
updated 8:03 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
updated 8:12 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT