I visited the World Wildlife Fund website the other day. It is a terrific site that is devoted to the struggle of seeing our world’s ecosystem remain in balance. That includes climate change, over fishing and animal extinction. Their goal is essentially to get people to donate money to pursue programs that will allow them to pay for lobbyists to get legislation enacted. They also wish to encourage responsible behavior on the part of world governments, a goal that seems somewhat elusive in even the most idealistic of moments.
I applaud their efforts. I would like them to be successful for the most part, but I am beginning to wonder if they can be at all effective. I think this way because I oppose their current campaign of what they call a campaign to save the elephant. The cornerstone of the campaign is to stop all trading in ivory, no matter how old it may be. This is, they believe, the moral imperative that must be enacted to alert the world and to put a halt to the slaughter of elephants. It is an emotional approach that resonates deeply with animal lovers, but which, on examination, disregards some practical realities.
There is no question that the ivory from slaughtered elephants is being used to make goods, some of which are selling in America. Stopping the trade in ivory will certainly put a halt to the trade in this ivory. But how much of it is being sold in America? Apparently, 35,000 elephants are being slaughtered each year. A single tusk weighs close to 250 pounds so 35,000 elephants would yield up to 17,500,000 pounds of ivory. How much has been found in America? According to the Convention on Illegal Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) report of 2013, only two tons or 4,000 pounds of illegal ivory was confiscated. That represents eight elephants.
My numbers may be slightly skewed, but even if they are off by 50%, it is clear that the majority of illegal ivory is not coming anywhere near the US. My questions for the World Wildlife Fund are, what happens if we go and ban ivory and the elephants continue to be slaughtered? I fear that if Americans do ban the trade in ivory that 1) the slaughter won’t stop and that Americans will throw up their hands feeling they have done all that they could do, 2) an illegal trade will develop and 3) the current owners of valuable, formerly legitimate ivories, will form black markets and that our legal system will be burdened with yet another law that is hard to enforce.
As an owner of antique ivory, I see the legislation as a shotgun approach to a problem that could use a scalpel. The shotgun is an effective killing weapon, but it doesn’t discriminate between friend and foe. I know that antique organizations would agree and cooperate in creating a data base of antique ivory. I also know that a modest tax from the owners, sellers and buyers of ivory would be willing to pay a fee to be part of this data base. There are, according to Lark Mason who culled information and extrapolated from sales of ivory in Cincinnati over a 6 month period, 300-600 million pieces with ivory in America.
Even if Lark’s figures are three times too great, the taxing of the movement of 100 million ivories could go a long way to both setting up a data base, learning about the illegal trade and eventually in helping the elephant population. The World Wildlife Fund is a worthy organization and they need to get this issue right. They also need to get the right people on the right side of the issue. Currently, a lot of law abiding citizens who disagree with this approach will flout what they consider to be a bad law. Americans have done that before and will do it again. The WWF should work to get this right.