I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote

- Herman Melville



Aug 29, 2019

It’s Time to Break the Deadlock over Africa’s Ivory Trade: Here’s How.

Fierce debates over ivory have dominated the global conference for the international trade in species for 30 years since the first international ivory ban was instituted in 1989.

The debate over Ivory continues at the 18th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) wrapping up in Switzerland this week.

At CITES, 183 countries who are signatories to the treaty decide on which of 36 000 listed species should be traded, or not. This is to ensure that their survival and conservation is not threatened.

The variety of experiences people have of elephants underlie the debates on whether ivory should be traded or not.

Read Next: Some good conservation news: India’s tiger numbers are going up.

On one hand, countries that have large numbers often view elephants as a threat to the communities that live close to them. These are large, potentially dangerous, animals that can affect people’s livelihoods and lives.

This explains why countries like Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Zambia and Namibia – which host about 70% Africa’s elephants – are behind efforts to get a CITES agreement on a legal and highly regulated trade of ivory. Their proposals to trade say that proceeds would be used exclusively for elephant conservation and community development programmes.

Photo by Will Shirley

The pro-trade perspective is that tourism revenue isn’t enough to finance elephant conservation and provide adequate benefits to the communities that live with them.

On the other hand, most other African countries strongly oppose any form of legal trade. They back a complete ban in trade. These countries argue that any trade legitimises the purchase of ivory, putting their own elephant populations at risk of increased poaching. But many of these countries have few, or even no, elephants.

This deadlock over ivory has created huge tension between conservation stakeholders and countries with the majority of African elephants.

It has also led to animosity between African countries and other groups that should be working together for elephant protection. Zimbabwe for instance, home to over 80 000 elephants, indicated it could withdraw from CITES. The government argues that other countries continue to prescribe how Zimbabwe should manage its own animals – a view supported by other southern African nations.

The vicious debates over ivory take up a considerable amount of time and energy at CITES. This means there is less time to focus on other critically endangered taxa – like orchids – that do not get the attention they deserve.

A new approach is urgently needed in which African countries with wild elephant populations develop workable solutions in a less confrontational manner.

New approach

It’s important to build a way forward using experiences from the successful resolution of conflicts – like those in South Africa and Colombia – and tensions over managing climate change.

In these experiences, the key stakeholders came together multiple times over several years. This enabled them to better understand their differences and develop workable solutions in a less confrontational manner.

Central to the approach would be to move away from the antagonistic issue of ivory as the central point of debate. Discussions should instead focus on agreed objectives. For instance, the global importance of the conservation of elephants and the rights, benefits and incentives to the custodians of elephants – the communities and countries where they live.

Focusing on communities is key. It’s also a position that is supported by extensive research, for instance Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom’s paper showed how providing a voice, rights and ownership to rural communities is key to the sustainable conservation of the environment and wildlife – like elephants.

One example of this includes Nepal’s approach whereby communities can get up to 50% revenue from visitors to world-famous national parks, like Chitwan.

Another example is Namibia’s communal conservancy programme where communities are given rights over wildlife. This includes the right to earn revenue with tourism partners and through hunting.

Small group dialogue

Dialogues between key parties should be initiated soon so that they can take place in the buildup to the next Conference of the Parties in 2022.

These small group discussions may reveal solutions – like a commitment by global bodies and NGOs – to provide an alternative equally valuable revenue source to replace ivory. These solutions could potentially be linked to protecting elephants and their habitats, like savannas and forests, from degradation or destruction and at the same time provide global climate benefits.

Decisions at CITES Conferences of the Parties are made with votes, in halls filled with thousands of people and journalists. This does not create a good environment for deeper dialogue over contentious issues like ivory.

But countries can propose smaller discussions and working groups. As the CITES conference enters it last few days this week, it is urgent that African countries with elephants, as the ultimate custodians, take the lead in spear-heading and taking ownership of these processes.

It can eventually provide the example of dealing with the tensions over other iconic species – like rhinos – to the benefit of all CITES-listed species.The Conversation

Duan Biggs, Senior Research Fellow Social-Ecological Systems & Resilience, Griffith University and Matthew H. Holden, Lecturer, Centre for Applications in Natural Resource Mathematics, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cover photo: African elephant. PhotocechCZ/Shutterstock

Continue Reading



Sep 17, 2019

India Must Stop Deforesting its Mountains if it Wants to Fight Floods.

During floods and landslides in August 2019, two villages were completely destroyed killing several people, while a year earlier Kerala saw its worst floods in a century.



Gayathri D Naik

Floods are now an annual nightmare in many parts of southern and western India. Valleys in the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala that weren’t considered flood-prone until recently are at risk.

These floods appear to be getting more severe. Climate change is causing stronger and more erratic rainfall with recurrent floods in low-lying areas while population growth is putting more people in risky areas. And another problem comes from deforestation in the mountain range where much of the water first fell: the Western Ghats.

More than 500 people died in severe flooding in Kerala in 2018.
AJP / shutterstock

The Western Ghats run for 1,600km in parallel with India’s west coast, from Gujarat right down to Tamil Nadu at the tip of the subcontinent. It is – or was – a picturesque landscape of serene valleys, steep gorges and virgin forests. Yet recurring floods and landslides in the mountains, hills and areas downstream (between the Ghats and the sea) show that India must rethink its environmental law to balance the needs of nature and humans.

The Western Ghats follow India’s western coast.
Nichalp / wiki, CC BY-SA

The mountains are teeming with life. Though they cover only a small part of India’s total land area, the Ghats are home to more than 30% of the country’s species of plants, fish, reptiles, birds and mammals, including both wild elephants and tigers. Its combination of unique species and habitat loss means Unesco has recognised it as one of eight global “hottest hotspots” of biodiversity.

Climate change is already having an obvious impact, with unprecedented rains in monsoon seasons and severe drought and dry rivers in summer. And as the human population has grown, people have chopped down the forests and replaced them with spice, tea, coffee and rubber plantations. Thousands of illegal stone quarries now also operate in the Ghats, where mountainsides are demolished to generate stones and sand for the construction industry. Deforestation and the use of highly destructive explosives mean these areas are prone to increased seismic tremors and landslides.

Large dams on major rivers offer renewable energy yet also raise another set of environmental problems. In Kerala, many are located in eco-sensitive parts of the Western Ghats, with some dating back to British rule. As demand for energy increases, India plans to build more dams which in turn could lead to massive deforestation and ecosystem destruction. All this makes flooding more severe, as deforestation in the catchment area of a river reduces the land’s ability to retain water.

Tea plantation on deforested land near Munnar, Kerala, in the Western Ghats.
Mazur Travel / shutterstock

Whether triggered by damming, deforestation, or exacerbated by climate change, human-induced natural disasters in the region have pointed to a need for stronger environmental protection laws.

How to protect the Western Ghats

India’s 1950 constitution claims that protection of environment is a fundamental duty of every citizen, and though it does not explicitly contain a right to a clean environment, legal authority for environmental lawmaking is derived from the document.

Over the years, the country’s central government has enacted various laws that are applicable to the Western Ghats: the Environment Protection Act 1986, the Forest Conservation Act 1980, the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2002 and so on. However, these laws are not implemented efficiently, which makes me wonder if areas like the Himalayas and the Western Ghats – internationally significant ecosystems and biosphere reserves – need their own special laws.

The endangered Boulenger’s tree frog is found in the Western Ghats – and nowhere else.
lensalot / shutterstock

Additionally, India’s water laws are inadequate. Existing legislation primarily focuses on pollution control, meaning the law has little to say about preventing or even managing floods which result from mismanagement of dams or too much riverside development.

The problem is enhanced in case of rivers that flow across state boundaries. Some of the major floods in the past couple years happened after dams at or near full capacity in one district or state were opened, letting water flow downstream into another area. Recently, a draft dam safety bill has been proposed to address these problems.

Similarly, discussions over climate change and environmental lawmaking should involve more grassroot level participation. For most people, poverty and earnings still matter more than climate mitigation or adaptation. Hence people’s perception should be moulded to recognise and realise how deforestation or climate change impacts their daily life.

The Western Ghats are south India’s lifeline, with millions dependent on the range either directly or indirectly. These mountains need protection. However, while new development in the region continues to be human-centric, the entire concept of nature preservation is relegated. To protect the Western Ghats, what we require is an attitude that recognises the significance of these mountains, and that will involve specific laws.The Conversation

Gayathri D Naik, Research Scholar, School of Law, SOAS, University of London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cover Photo: Mountains above Munnar, a hill town in Kerala, India. Santhosh Varghese / Shutterstock

Recent Articles

How climate change is driving emigration from Central America

Rising global temperatures, the spread of crop disease and extreme weather events have made coffee harvests unreliable in places like El Salvador. On top of that, market prices are unpredictable.

The Great Barrier Reef outlook is ‘very poor’. We have one last chance to save it.

It’s official. The outlook for the Great Barrier Reef has been downgraded from “poor” to “very poor” by the Australian government’s own experts.

A Tipping Point for Freeride Mountain Biking

Freeride has remained conspicuously male-dominated. Now, a tenacious group of riders are part of a movement to change that, and they’re throwing down at some of mountain biking’s biggest events.