There are a number of false claims about ivory that are currently circulating in the news. The biggest false claim is that New York is the second largest ivory market in the world. I don’t know where or how this fact was established, but anyone reading the CITES report from 2013 will quickly see that America, as a whole, is insignificant as a market for illegal ivory. It is a talking point for those people that want to see a ban on all ivory sales and it clearly isn’t true.
The second shibboleth is that by banning all ivory in the United States, we will save the elephant. This is a leap of faith, not a fact. People who would like to save the elephant and who claim that this bold moral stance will set an example for the world are being, I feel, naïve. America’s moral standing in the world has suffered since we went into Viet Nam in the 1960’s and was severely damaged by the Iraq War, the lack of WMDs, Abu Ghraib and, well the list is a long one.
There is something to be said for moral stances. However, if they aren’t going to be effective, and it hasn’t been as far as antiquities are concerned as the smuggling goes on and the problem of illegal excavations continues. Furthermore, it is clear that the Chinese, in particular, don’t have any compulsion to listen to the West for any reason as they continue to build coal fed power plants despite the obvious pollutants and their deleterious effect on climate.
The most difficult thing to clarify, which is less of a fact than a supposition, is that the endangered elephants will be saved by the action of banning ivory in America. I know that if all of us who deal antique ivory believed this to be the case, we would endorse the ban wholeheartedly. Working to save the elephant should be a goal, but economics notwithstanding, the argument is susceptibly weak for a host of reasons, the most obvious being that the vast majority of poached ivory goes to Asia.
Facts and emotion bang heads all the time. There are inconvenient truths everywhere regarding the demise of the elephant. Zimbabwe’s need for capital, for example, is leading to Mugabe opening up game preserves to mining which will reduce the elephant’s territory in Zimbabwe which will impact the herd. Mugabe is going to allow elephants slaughtered to get cash every day of the week. How many other situations like this are brewing? I would venture that our State Department knows and so should the people who wish to save the elephant.