THE BLIND MAN'S ELEPHANT: BROADENING PERSPECTIVES TO SAVE THE AFRICAN ELEPHANT
Ivory poaching has evolved from a local and regional nuisance to a vexing global threat in need of immediate action. The ivory trade is one of the world's largest illicit activities, funneling money to terrorist groups, creating instability, and bringing the world's largest land mammal to near extinction. The African elephant population has plummeted and poaching rates have reached an all time high driven by an insatiable Asian demand. The ivory trade has shifted from small, subsistence efforts to militarized, highly organized, and professional criminal networks. This change has not only expanded the scale of poaching activities, but also increased the threat to national security. In Africa, ivory trade has financed terrorist networks including the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), al-Shabab and the Janjaweed. By leveraging unstable governments and underground financing from the global illicit ivory trade, terrorist and criminal organizations pose a threat well beyond Africa's borders.Fragmented solutions have been presented to encourage the development of conservation programs; however, most policies have not been fully implemented or sustained at the range country level. While humans have an ethical responsibility to act in the face of species extinction, conservation policies must be reasonable in the demands they place on fragile governments. The establishment of conservation programs must acknowledge the untenable situation placed on developing nations with unlimited demands and severely limited financial resources. By encouraging responsible economic growth combined with local engagement and sustainability, conservation programs to reestablish the African elephant can succeed in a world of restricted and limited resources.While the size and scope of the illegal ivory trade is daunting, it is a winnable war. Unlike other highly trafficked resources, ivory is a vanity item. There is no perceived health benefit to overcome as seen in the rhino horn trade, no technology application like the coltan market, and no secondary utility like that of timber. The correct combination of economically viable policies founded on conservation ethics can bolster national security, reduce conflict, increase economic growth, and save the African elephant from extinction.
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