Senate hearing on Ivory and Global Insecurity – Comments by Kate Nowak

Today there was hearing in the U.S. Senate foreign relations committee on the issue of Ivory and global insecurity,” chaired by Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts). In attendance were Senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware), and Senator Mark Udall (D-Colorado). Testimony was provided by Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Founder of Save the Elephants; Mr. Tom Cardamone, Managing Director of Global Financial Integrity; Mr. John Scanlon, Secretary General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

This is a guest commentary by Katarzyna Nowak, co-director of the Udzungwa Elephant Project and lecturer in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University.

I think that Dr. Iain D-H succeeded in convincing the ivory trade Senate hearing members of 1) the global security threats and implications of the ivory trade, 2) the possibility of using existing security resources to help tackle the problem and 3) of the ability of the U.S. to work with China to reduce demand at the highest levels of diplomacy. Iain’s 3 main action points were well-made:

1) Confront poachers in the field

2) Reduce illegal trade

3) Reduce demand

The first would require more funds aimed at anti-poaching, the second a better handle on transit points using high-tech tracking devices and mechanisms, and the third, U.S.-led diplomacy.

The bipartisan “Reward bill” Senator Kerry mentioned could also apply (S.2318), especially if, as Iain suggested, the monetary values of existing ivory stocks are replaced with the equivalent in “aid” and the stocks are burned.

Regarding a Pelly Amendment-type of action: it could work, although as far as I know, Pelly applies only to fisheries. This from an article about whaling: “Although consumer boycotts are unlikely to have much effect, exporters are concerned particularly about a possible American use of the Pelly Amendment to the Fishery Protective Act which authorizes the U.S. President to prohibit imports from a nation that diminishes the effectiveness of international wildlife conservation programs” (Kalland, 2004 p.80). Obama would need to act. Apparently, a relevant paragraph was put into place regarding reducing wildlife trade at this month’s meeting between U.S. and China.

If CITES is so concerned about sending a “strong political signal” then why 1) don’t they give China a trade suspension for non-compliance and 2)why did CITES select trade proponents Rowan Martin et al. as consultants on a recent and ongoing ivory trade mechanism study and not e.g., Esmond Martin and Lucy Vigne or Samuel Wasser, whose DNA techniques they apparently employ (and mentioned several times)? Scanlon said, “China is the problem” then “China is effective.” Which is it? Also, why not finally admit that one-off sales have “whet the appetites” of the demand side? One good point he made was that seizures do not = success as the animal is dead and those who wanted it, still want it.

Sen. Kerry called CITES on a number of issues (e.g., one-off sales and disposal of seized illegal ivory). And he raised the idea of green hunting (hunters tranquilizing animals, embedding tracking devices) – has this been done? Sen. Coons asked if such specific tracking would be useful given that Africa-East Asia routes are probably well-known, and Scanlon said yes, and again mentioned the use of DNA in tracking country of origin.

If the measure of society is in how it treats its weakest members, then this certainly applies here, I think, to non-human animals. We will see what comes of this Senate hearing. For the time-being, I’m optimistic thanks to Iain Douglas-Hamilton and John Kerry, but not thanks to Scanlon who, unlike Kerry, couldn’t leave his political correctness in the bag just this once and left big decisions to “the parties.” Another CoP-out for CITES. (Next CoP: Thailand, March 2013.)

Is CITES a wildlife trade regulatory body or a yardstick of democracy?


More analysis by Dr. Nowak on the ivory trade can be found at:

Full video and testimony from the hearing can be found at:

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