Throughout the last decade wildlife became an increasingly important issue on the international agenda. Thanks to movies like “Blood Diamond” , “Gorrilas in the Mist”, or “Lord of Wars” public attention was drawn to problems of animal extinction and distruction of  their natural habitats.

However, today’s agenda is focused on sky-rocketing numbers in poaching and increased militarisation of wildlife protection. This post is the first one in an upcoming series on wildlife and its protection as a part of research for my MA dissertation. I grew up on a farm and was always taught to respect nature and animals. Cats, dogs and horses were always very close to my heart because I took care of them since I was little. My dream is to work in an environmental organiastion tthat protects nature and animals from their biggest enemies: People.

Time for “Blood Ivory”after the “Blood Diamonds”?

This now well-known phrase of “blood diamonds” gained its popularity in the ’90s as an outcome of civic movement and hard work of non-governmental organisations. Blood diamonds are widely known as the conflict diamonds and are: rough diamonds traded by rebels to finance their armed conflicts against legitimate governments (Franziska 2013). This luxury product have fueled and funded wars, massive death, and refugee crises in Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Côte d’Ivoire (Franziska 2013).  In the last few decaded over 4 milion people died in wars involving conflict diamonds.

How diamonds are connected to elephants and wildlife? I think that the “charismatic species” like elephants, rhinos, gorillas, tigers, snow leopards and polar bears should be classified as high-value natural resources which makes them part of (or causes of) conflicts, just like the diamonds. And here I also hope that just as Kimberley Process and Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, there will appear a structured programe to protect species in conflict-affected areas. What I am trying to understand is:

  1. a) are these areas in conflict because of the widlife resources- poachers fighting to get hold of them?
  2. b) is this conflict lasting because it’s being fuelled by the wildlife resources?
  3. c) is increased militarization of the wildlife protection a good solution?
  4. d)  is it ever right for an outside actor to ignore international convention to save a species from extinction?

I hope to be able to reply to these questions by my dissertation deadline- September 6th.

The Kimberley Process was initiated by the UN and international NGOs which successfully campaigned to raise awareness about the problem. The KP is actually a voluntary international agreement regulating diamond trade. The amazing aspect of the KP is that it brought together 3 different agents of the international arena: governments, NGOs and corporations by bottom-up pressure on global governance. I wish the same would happen when it comes to banning ivory and wildlife trade, however the problem appears in a much different customer scene: South-East Asia, particularly China, which is the biggest importer of wildlife goods due to its believes in traditional medicine. Such radical change demands shift in local thinking and large-scale education which I am not sure if China is ready for, same goes for Phillipines which use elephant ivory in production of religious symbols. Actually,   on Cebu the link between ivory and the church is so strong that the word for ivory, garing, has a second meaning: “religious statue.” Moreover, the Vatican didn’t sign CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora ) yet and which annoys me ever more is the fact that religious heads of Philipinnes give to catholic popes gifts made out of ivory!

I want to cry every time I see headlines like this: “Kenya to destroy largest ever ivory stockpile” because it simply means that 120 tonnes of ivory equals 4000 dead elephants. And even if you don’t care about this, let people who care do their job instead of asking pointless questions “How about poor babies dying in developing countries?!”. Yes, I am asking you: what about them? I hope that since you are so concerned about the starving children- you are helping them. I really hate when people won’t help any cause but will criticise others.

However, it is important to “celebrate” events like this because keeping the ivory and then selling it as one-off can become a cover for smugglers to hide their illegall ivory trade. Instead, by burning the ivory stockipiles, Kenya showed their zero-tolerance policy towards poaching, similar occurances took places in Sri Lanka where over 350 elephant tusks were publically burned, these tusks came from Kenya. This all unbelivable as the global ban for ivory trade was introduced 27 years ago.

Hippo Hostages 

Events from the past show how wildlife was used as bargaining tool in local conflicts as well as the best tool to draw international attention. Will these of you who HAVE NEVER EVER WATCHED CUTE ELEPHANTS BATHING ON YOUTOBE or SWEET BABY RHINOS DRINKING MILK FROM THEIR HUMAN PROTECTORS raise their hands! Each one of you checked personal requierments for a nanny of baby pandas, shortly saying: wildlife became a popular topic and animals are now becoming new family members. I think that is a great trend and it builds a very positive image of animals across societies which improves their protection and raises awareness about destruction of their natural habitats. On the other hand, it also put some charismatic species in danger, as they can become bargaining tool during conflicts, this happend in 2006, when Mai Mai rebeles butchered hundreds of hippos in the Virunga National Park (DRC). Rebels did it to bring international attention to their movement, they also threatened to kill the endangered gorillas. Other reasons: to destroy the ravneue-generating sources in order to bankrupt the state (Douglas, Alie 2014).

What future holds for the high-value species? Will we lose elephants, rhinos and tigers? Is there a way of solving these issues and do people care? I hope to find answers to these questions before I run out of time, 600h and counting down!

 

Sources:

Alie, K., Douglas, L.R. (2014) High-value natural resources: linking wildlife conservation to international conflict, insecurity and development concerns. Biological Conservation 171 (2014) 270-277

Christy, B. (2012) Ivory Worship. National Geographic: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2012/10/ivory/christy-text

Franziska, B. (2013) From Blood Diamonds to the Kimberley Process.

Cover photo: https://dribbble.com/

Image nr 1:http://www.mining.com/infographic-the-truth-about-conflict-diamonds-43490/