Saturday, 20 March 2010

Paper of the week

Broadly, the conflict between politics and science is the running theme of the paper of the week. The subject of interest is the African elephant, an endangered species, the number of which is seriously dwindling due to poaching. By reviewing a large body of research from several groups including that from the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), the paper by Wasser et al, Elephants, Ivory, and Trade, Science 12 March 2010
provides evidence of the prevalence of a large scale of illegal ivory trade in Africa confirming that most of this continent lacks adequate controls for the protection of elephants. Equally the inability of the largest consumer nations mainly China and Japan to curb illegally traded ivory complicates the issue further. The paper argues a case against the petition to CITES by Tanzania and Zambia the largest sources and transit regions of illegal ivory for down-listing the conservation status of elephants for the one-off sale of stock piled ivory. The international group of authors are emphatic about disallowing such a sale which in their opinion which would promote illegal trade, split the appendix listing of the species and also sow discord among conservation workers.

The role protection agencies play in conservation of flora and fauna is undisputable. Enforcement of sensible and judicial rules and regulations promote species conservation. And as the paper aptly points out, policy enforcing organisations such a CITES will only satisfy its role with criteria that it puts science ahead of politics. Whilst the paper does offer valuable insight into the loopholes in legalities and law enforcement, it falls short of addressing some important issues. Firstly, it fails to offer any insight into to whether and how CITES can effectively curb illegal trade which based on its current record of ambiguous and confusing policies is difficult to buy into. Secondly, how can the petitioners nor indeed other African nations be convinced that selling the stock piled ivory is not the way forward. Having a set of rules is one thing, enforcing it is another. Therefore, ‘winning the hearts and minds’ of the policy enforcers in these nations is perhaps the biggest hurdle of all.

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