Editor’s Note: We published Daniel Stiles’ article “Can Elephants Survive a Continued Ivory Trade Ban?” in African Indaba Vol. 12 5-II. As to be expected, Stiles received a lot of flak from ivory ban proponents. He responded with the following opinion piece (which you can download HERE as published in the blog “Irrelevant, Illogical, and Illegal–24 Experts Respond to Arguments Supporting Legalization of the Ivory Trade” compiled and edited by Katarzyna Nowak).
It is apparent from some of the comments of those who understand the issue that they didn’t read my piece, or are purposely avoiding important aspects of what I did write, or are inventing things I did not write in order to make facile attacks. Some things we simply disagree about. Other “authorities” basically do not understand the issue or made irrelevant comments. There were a few comments that I thought were useful contributions, especially from Tusk Trust and John Hart.
I read through the comments hoping someone would come up with a better way to solve the ultimate problem of reducing supply of ivory from slaughtered elephants to satisfy demand, whether it be consumer demand for worked ivory or dealer/factory demand for raw ivory, including speculators.
Ivory does not have to be supplied from slaughtered elephants. It can be supplied from a combination of controlled release of the hundreds of tons of existing stockpiles (which currently are being wasted), natural mortality and problem animal control. Even if these sources can’t satisfy all demand, isn’t it better to reduce elephant killing for ivory by 50% than not at all?
You have made enormous efforts to try and demonstrate why replacing poached tusks with legal tusks won’t work, but what is the proposed alternative? We all agree on demand reduction campaigns – which I started calling for in 2004. Your other proposed solution is to close all domestic ivory markets. But you haven’t adequately thought out the difficulties involved in trying to close effectively legal domestic ivory markets. Look at the current mess in the U.S. Even with the new restrictions on ivory commerce, there will still be legal ivory traded to “confuse consumers”. Asserting that making something illegal will do away with demand flies in the face of empirical evidence demonstrating the opposite, recreational drugs being just one example of many.
You also haven’t proposed how you will close existing black markets, and the fact that in the absence of legal ivory, the black markets will grow, fostering even more crime and corruption. I have proposed one possible solution that should be examined objectively.
No “solution” will be perfect. The economic, social, cultural, ecological, demographic, ethical and political variables involved in ivory trade are so complex that any agreed policy and legislative implementation are bound to leave some aspects only partly addressed. My primary goal is to reduce killing elephants for ivory. Based on my experience and knowledge of the issue I have proposed what I think will save the most elephant lives.
It looks like the overwhelming momentum is for a nominal closing of domestic ivory markets. I imagine even China might give in. If they do we’ll have an opportunity to see how a domestic ban works there and how it impacts on elephants. But if they don’t?
Author: Daniel Stiles