Can Elephants Survive a Continued Ivory Trade Ban? — A Comment

ng_logo_smallThis post is a comment by Andre DeGeorges to an article by Daniel Stiles in the National Geographic’s website  that was published on September 15, 2014. You can read the article here:   Can Elephants Survive a Continued Ivory Trade Ban?

By: Andre DeGeorges

I still feel a few important issues are ignored in general, even by the sustainable use crowd. The key word is POVERTY and Ron Thomson seems to be the shepherd boy crying wolf and no one is listening. Unless people are lifted out of poverty in Africa, the habitat for elephant and other species will go and more and more elephant will be exterminated either as pests, as revenge killings – like rhino and lion have been in East Africa, and even poached.

Africa’s human majority subsistence population will more than double in the 21st century and along with that will be attempts at increasing their livestock as a source of wealth and food – unless pressure can be taken off these rural areas. As already discussed, Zimbabwean PH Andy Wilkinson coined the phrase “Politics of Despair” with people in a survival mode rotating between the rural areas and urban slums – mining Sub-Saharan Africa’s natural resources

What does this mean:

  1. An equitable portion of wealth from elephant and other natural resources must accrue to the people living with the wildlife/timber/strategic minerals, etc. – as opposed to today where the majority goes to governments and the private sector – but to be negotiated with the private sector since at this point in Africa’s development rural people do not have the marketing contacts to make this happen.
  2. Foreign aid must change from 70-90% going back to the donor countries via NGOs, consulting firms, so-called “experts”, conditions precedents (e.g., buy America or Europe) and be channelled to remain in Africa for health and education.
  3. Like China, a large portion of what is today Foreign Aid must go to subsidizing the West’s private sector in the form of low interest loans, in high risks areas – grants, and even infrastructure – to invest in Africa and help Africa get added value from transformation of a higher percentage of its natural resources in Africa. The existing taxidermy industry in Southern Africa is a good example, as is trophy & biltong hunting. South Africa probably has the largest formal bush meat trade in the world readily available in butcheries throughout the country. Additional added value is obtained from souvenirs and household items made from game skins and horn – from rugs & wall hangings to knife handles, cork screw handles and bottle openers. Zimbabwe’s game skin Courteney boots are world famous among hunters! South Africa has an excellent diamond cutting/jewelry industry and to a lesser degree Tanzania (e.g., tanzanite) and Kenya produce gemstone jewelry. South Africa then has various outlets such as Mervis Diamonds in the U.S. ( ). Added value can happen with many other natural resources such as COLTAN to make microchips and tropical hardwoods to make furniture for export, etc.
  4. Salaries must be based upon Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) – not slave wages – that is local cost of living as a means of creating a middle class and taking pressure off the rural areas and adequate pollution controls – unlike the Athi River Industrial area on the edge of Nairobi!!

What this means is that Africa must experience Economic Development, and not just Economic Growth (increasing GDP) as is the case today, if the World wishes to see Africa’s people and wildlife have a future. And yes – if this poverty is not overcome expect to also see an increase in Radical Islam & the political Instability that follows it. As I see it the rise in Radical Islam, Increased Poaching, habitat loss and even the projected increase in population (when you are poor with no retirement & a high infant mortality you have plenty of kids to assure security in old age & besides as in my Mom’s generations – her 11 brothers and sisters were cheap farm labor), & mass migrations out of Africa into Europe and South Africa are indices of Poverty that if not overcome will lead to increased poverty, political chaos and the demise of Africa’s unique biodiversity and charismatic mega-fauna .

The above may not be what the West wishes for Africa – I mean what are a few elephant compared to control over access to Africa’s oil and strategic metals; as cheaply as possible. Chaos often facilitates the extraction and under-priced sale of natural resources as we see in the Eastern DRC and even with the black marketing of ivory and rhino horn – where the middlemen & end users, not the people living among the resources, make the majority of the profits. When you are in a survival mode – most people will take any risk necessary to meet their daily needs. That’s why a large middle class tends to increase the likelihood of both political stability and a population willing to buy into modern concepts of biodiversity and conservation.

In simple terms, suppose tomorrow the average American/European found the supermarkets closed and/or we went back into another Great Depression that put people in a survival mode. Within a short time – I’d say a week or maybe two – why poaching, stealing, robberies, etc. would spike as people would do whatever it takes to survive! The majority of Africans are in a Survival Mode! I know I am repeating to some degree what I have said before, but while Daniel’s analysis is critical, it is but one small piece to a larger puzzle that must be constructed if Africa and its people are to have a future.

Conservation, marketing of elephant and rhino products, etc. will fail unless part of a bigger picture.
Say – why can’t Africa develop a major ivory carving business as a means of obtaining added value? Senegal had some good ivory carvers and if the African art I collected over the years is any indication of Africa’s potential – this should be looked at very closely!

Anyway, there will be no Free Lunches. Unless Africa/Africans takes/take control of its/their own destiny – don’t expect the West or China to see you through your current crisis.

About Andre DeGeorges:
Dr. Andre DeGeorges has over 30 years of experience in natural resource management, planning and policy reform in Africa, the Caribbean, Central America and the United States. Dr. DeGeorges retired from the Department of Nature Conservation, Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), Pretoria, South Africa, in 2008, where from 2002 onward he was manager of Project Noah, a program to train youth from regions of Africa rich in wildlife in natural resource management while exposing them to the economic value of wildlife. He is currently an active commentator on conservation.