|Headed for the Elephant Graveyard|
Reports that the United
Nations' "Trade and Endangered Species" convention in Chile is going to
vote on whether to overturn the 1989 ban on ivory, after African nations have
proposed selling 11 tonnes a year, mostly from stock-piles confiscated from
Ivory is actually a pretty useless material. Presumably it will be sold to
men in Asia who think that it works like Viagra, or to tourists who think
that the little white carvings are authentically south-east Asian, or maybe to
red-neck racial supremicists who think that removing all ebony from their piano
keyboard is a good start. There's no accounting for taste: like they say, if
you think it's an aphrodisiac, then it is! Elephant feet, on the other
hand, make very practical umbrella stands.
Of course the ivory ban was one of the most disastrous things for
elephants. Reducing the supply of ivory raises the price (yes, just like the war on drugs), and therefore
creates larger incentives to poachers. The most efficient way for the poachers
to take the ivory is to kill the elephants. Knocking them out with drugs for
long enough to saw off the tusks is expensive and risky. Further, there is no
money or incentive for anyone to protect the elephants - they have no owners,
and even if they did, those owners would not have the financial resources to
protect the elephants - because they would have no income. Why? Because they
couldn't sell the ivory!
On the other hand, if people were able to run large areas as elephant
farms, the elephants would have economic value. They would
be jealously and greedily guarded by their owners, who would be far more
determined than any corrupt government official to not
only protect them, but breed more of them. Sheep and cattle are not exactly on
the endangered species list - because they are farmed.
The ivory trade is big business. Privately managed
it could be a lot bigger. 24-hour satellite monitoring of every elephant would
be quite feasible with the expected value of the farmed ivory. A video
satellite feed for each elephant will be feasible in a few years.
Of course the African nations are not talking about private ownership. The
corrupt governments claim to be capable of running this themselves - using
money from ivory sales on elephant protection. Principles of private ownership
would undermine the begging-bowl culture built up between first and third-world countries
through the UN.
The African nations are choosing to ignore the fact that their corruption
and incompetence will prevent proper protection of the elephants because they
have their eyes on the bribes they can collect from the elephant trade, but it
is a step in the right direction.
Unfortunately many other nations (including Australia) are not going to
support the move. Australia's reason? 'A firm commitment to elephant
conservation'. The Howard government must be trying to attract the green vote.
For most self-described conservationists, stopping people making money is more important than
saving elephants from extinction.