Are we sending a mixed message as to the value of elephants — products to be exploited, or beings deserving greater respect beyond their commercial use? Despite efforts to reduce the illegal ivory trade, elephants are being killed at a higher rate than they can reproduce. The UN mandated CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) has issued its latest report which notes that 2014 poaching rates indicate no decline from the previous year. While the record poaching rates of 2011 had declined, the level of killing African elephants has plateaued now and at a level of biological unsustainability for the species to survive in the wild. Most of this killing is linked to the ivory trade. CITES has identified 22 countries most implicated in the illegal trade . (See CITES Press Release: “Elephant Poaching Rates Virtually Unchanged in 2014 .”)
“African elephant populations continue to face an immediate threat to their survival from high levels of poaching for their ivory, especially in Central and West Africa where the situation appears to have deteriorated. We are however also seeing some encouraging signals in parts of East Africa where the overall poaching trends have declined, which shows us all what is possible through a sustained and collective effort” says John E. Scanlon, CITES Secretary-General. (See: “Elephant Poaching Rates Virtually Unchanged in 2014.”)
An appropriate question to ask today may be whether the legalization of some trade in ivory over the past few years has been part of the problem or solution. Should elephants be viewed as part of existence shared with humans or to be exploited, including their ivory largely as ornaments or status. While some circuses have announced their commitment to end elephant acts, the threat to these noble animals is even more direct than ever. Is the message mixed as to how we see elephants if any trade is legitimized that is the consequence of them being killed? To what degree has such trade aided conservation efforts, or is it merely a concession to outdated commercial interests that see elephants as a commodity to be harvested?