About Claire Sterling

Clare is Press Officer at IFAW UK Committed to animal welfare and conservation, she moved from her job as a journalist to work for IFAW, highlighting the cruelty of seal hunting, whaling, hunting with dogs and wildlife trade.  She has witnessed first-hand the cruelty of the Canadian seal hunt and has visited IFAW-funded veterinary clinics in impoverished communities in South Africa


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By Claire Sterling

About IFAW

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) was founded in 1969 to prevent cruelty to animals around the world and protect them from the many threats they face.  IFAW's founding campaign was the Canadian commercial seal hunt, the largest marine mammal hunt in the world. After years of tireless campaigning to end the cruel and unnecessary annual slaughter of hundreds of thousands of seal pups for their fur, a major victory was achieved in 2009 when the European Union voted to introduce a ban on the trade in seal products from all commercial hunts. Although this ban will not come into force in time to end this year's (2010) seal hunt in Canada, the effects are already being seen in Canada with far fewer seals being clubbed or shot last year as hunters recognised falling markets and international pressure against the hunt. IFAW continues to lobby the Canadian government to call an end to this cruelty once and for all.

Elsewhere, IFAW opposes commercial whaling by Japan, Norwayand and Iceland urging whaling nations to support responsible whale watching as an alternative to the cruelty of whaling. In the UK, IFAW campaigned for many years for an end to the cruel sport of hunting of foxes, deer, hare and mink with dogs and now works to enforce the Hunting Act 2004. As well as supporting and running a number of companion animal projects offering free veterinary treatment and education in the care of cats and dogs in poor communities in South Africa and other countries, IFAW has a team of emergency responders on standby 24 hours a day to respond to disasters around the world where animals may need to be rescued.  IFAW's other key campaign is working to end the illegal trade in wildlife souvenirs which threatens many species, particularly elephants which are still at risk from the deadly ivory trade.

Elephants in crisis
Many people will be shocked to learn that despite the recent 20th anniversary of an international ban on the ivory trade, thousands of elephants a year are still being illegally killed for their tusks. In fact, poaching for ivory still poses a serious risk to elephants, and even threatens the survival of the species in some areas of Africa. The world reacted 20 years ago when it became clear that elephants were being wiped out by poachers. International outcry led to the ivory ban which initially halted the trade and elephant herds started to recover. Poaching dropped in most African range states and ivory market prices plummeted around the world from 1990 until discussions over one-off ivory stockpile sales started in 1996.

Since then figures have shown that domestic ivory markets, and discussion and decisions about limited ivory sales, lead to increased poaching – even if not necessarily in the same country. Japan, China and a handful of southern African countries managed to reopen so-called 'limited' ivory trade and several countries still exert pressure for ivory markets to be opened up further. IFAW believes the lesson is clear - history shows that any legal ivory trade leads to more illegal killing, as the legal market provides poachers with a convenient smokescreen to sell their illegal stocks. Not surprisingly, as a result of this the ivory trade continues to flourish and seizures of illegal ivory are now skyrocketing. The international illegal trade in wildlife, of which ivory is a major component, is second only to the illegal trade in drugs and arms and worth an estimated $20 billion (12.5bn) annually.

Illegal ivory is now being used in conflicts in east Africa in much the same way as 'blood diamonds' were used in civil wars across west Africa in the 1990s. Demand for ivory in the Far East, particularly, has reached record levels. The Sudanese Janjaweed cross into to poach ivory and then take it back across the border to Khartoum where it is sold on to China.

Because the fate of an entire species is at stake, we cannot continue experimenting with limited ivory markets, one-off sales or population down-listings.  Such experiments risk driving elephants to extinction in some parts of Africa

Robbie Marsland, UK Director of IFAW, said: ‘Sadly, the truth is that ivory trade anywhere is a threat to elephants everywhere.  Twenty years after the ban, let’s do all we can to end the ivory trade and safeguard elephants for the future.’ 

The solution
The only solution to truly protect elephants is to reinstate a total, permanent ban on all ivory sales. If we do not act, scientists warn that increasing ivory poaching threatens many African elephant populations with local extinction, especially in West and Central Africa. Scientific research estimates that more than 38,000 elephants were killed for their ivory in 2006 alone. The killing rates are far higher in some countries. In Chad, for example, some 3,885 elephants lived in Chad's Zakouma National Park as recently as 2005. By 2009, only 617 elephants remained there. We all have a moral obligation to protect these magnificent creatures for future generations.

Although some African countries wish to sell stockpiled ivory, many others recognise the threat to their elephant populations and wish to protect them. But with poaching increasing, many of these poorer nations do not have the resources to control it and are asking for help from Europe and the US. Most African countries do not have the means to counter the financial power of major crime syndicates and expanding Asian markets without the help of European countries. Poorly equipped rangers, often missing basic gear, are confronted by organised gangs that use the newest vehicles, communications technology and firearms. Not only elephants lose their lives because of ivory. More than 100 rangers lose their lives every year trying to protect the precious wildlife heritage of their countries.

IFAW is calling for urgent action to protect elephants. IFAW urges the EU to take action and support these range states that are requesting assistance to fight poaching. Because the EU votes as a bloc at key international meetings it also has the unique ability to ensure that a ban on all ivory trade is reinstated. Support from other countries is important, but the EU is the only entity with the effective voting power to save or condemn this species.

IFAW urges the European Union and all CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) Parties to stop supporting one-off ivory sales, legal ivory trade and elephant down-listing proposals. As an important step towards this, parties must support Kenya’s proposal to extend the current 'resting period' on elephant and ivory decisions from nine to twenty years when it is introduced at the next CITES meeting in March.

How you can help
If you would like to help protect elephants from the deadly ivory trade please contact:

The Rt Hon. Hilary Benn MP

Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Nobel House
17 Smith Square

or email him at Hilary.Benn@defra.gsi.gov.uk and ask him to support a ban on all ivory trade. Urge him to vote in favour of Kenya's proposal for a 20 year moratorium at the next CITES meeting in March 2010.

How to contact IFAW - To find out more about IFAW's work to protect elephants and other animals and how you can help visit www.ifaw.org you can also sign up to e-alerts.
Alternatively, to find out how you can support our work call IFAW on 020 7587 6700 or write to IFAW, 87-90 Albert Embankment, London, SE1 7UD. 

Published in the magazine New Vision March/April 2010, www.thehamblintrust.org.uk