Wed, Mar 25, 2015 - Page 9 News List

Despite conservationists’ best efforts, the world is losing the wildlife war

It has been a year since 46 countries signed the ‘London declaration,’ a pledge to eradicate the trade in horn and ivory, but elephants and rhinos are still being pushed ever closer to extinction

By David Smith  /  The Observer

“If local communities see benefits of conservation in their livelihoods, they can be the first defenders of wildlife. Otherwise, if you take an approach where it’s necessary to bring an army and local communities look at them with suspicion, they’re part of the enemy — you occupy with the villages. That cannot be of benefit,” Makamba said.

“The issues of poaching and logging are issues of governance and poverty. Corruption is the center of it. You deal with corruption, you are halfway to dealing with the problem of poaching,” he added.

Whatever the shortcomings, the London conference is widely credited with raising awareness and putting the wildlife trade on the international agenda. For the first time in years, a majority of illegal wildlife consignments last year were seized on African soil rather than by authorities overseas.

Prince William announced a taskforce that will work with airlines and shipping companies to stop the transport of illegal wildlife.

Earlier this month Uhuru Kenyatta, the president of Kenya — which has about 38,000 elephants today compared with 167,000 in 1973 — burned 15 tonnes of ivory to show opposition to the trade.

Ethiopia followed suit, destroying its entire stockpile of ivory — an estimated 6.1 tonnes of raw tusks, carvings, trinkets and jewelry.

Meanwhile, at the demand end, Thailand has introduced sweeping laws and regulations and launched a huge public campaign against ivory involving more than a million people.

China’s engagement with the issue has been “a great leap forward,” according to one British official.

A recent survey found that Chinese consumer awareness of the ivory and horn trade’s impact on African wildlife has grown rapidly over the past two years following major public awareness campaigns, featuring celebrities such as Prince William, David Beckham and actor Jackie Chan (成龍).

However Milliken, who is scheduled to attend the Kasane conference today struck a note of caution that will not be popular with everyone.

“We tend to think people will be moved by the same messages as us, but those messages could have the opposite effect,” he said. “People want to demonstrate their wealth and status. If we say rhinos have rarity value, they could say, ‘Look at me, I can get it.’”

“The whole environmental community has to step back and ask, what are we trying to achieve? We have to get smarter and play a different game — maybe take our logos off. I still think there is a place for celebrities to help, but we have to be mature and realize that it only gets you so far. We can’t just haul out Madonna and think that will solve everything,” Milliken said.

David Smith is the Guardian’s Africa correspondent.

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