Author: ritva gahimbare – contributor
On Oct. 17, CNN issued a picture of a hunter proudly posing beside a carcass of a massive elephant. The slaughter of this majestic animal was legally organized by the Government of Zimbabwe for a German hunter who paid $60,000 for the game. The local government argued that the killing was justified by an extensive amount of hunting fees that would improve the critical economic conditions of the local community. However, we may logically deduce that a magnificent elephant is more likely to enhance the state of a local community long-term through benefits generated by the tourism industry. This sad report reminds us of another recent story about Cecil the Lion that made headlines in worldwide newspapers. The American dentist, Walter James Palmer, who arrogantly acknowledged his responsibility in the massacre of Cecil the Lion, paid $50,000 for the burglary. Despite the fact that he was already convicted of felony for poaching in America, he was granted a permit authorising him to kill big game in Africa.
One wonders what kind of arrogance it would take for a man to overtly stage dominance upon a harmless and defenseless beauty of nature. And, it also raises the question of how an antiquated and vicious quest for trophies can lead a wealthy man from the Western world to the Global South.
Just before this barbaric and immoral killing, there was a macabre discovery of at least forty carcasses of elephants that were poisoned with cyanide and dismembered by poachers in Zimbabwe. Such a huge plight may not happen without the complicity of the local government. Lack of political will from local governments and personal interests of corrupted political leaders allow this to happen. Matters of human greed and inexplicable pride of hunters fuel the demand. It has long been argued whether the hunting fees related to poaching contribute in sustaining organized crime in some fragile political states of Africa. As a result, the poaching of endangered species such as elephants induces several ethical queries that are associated not only to the slaughter of the wildlife, but also to the fate of the local population
In spite of the ban imposed by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) on the trade of ivory in 1989, elephants are subjects to an alarming decline caused mainly by poaching. Figures of elephant population have dramatically dropped from estimates of 7-10 million in the 1930s, to 300,000. Despite this fact, in 1999, CITES breached the ban to allow an extensive sale of ivory to Japan, and replicated the same in 2008 in favor of China that is estimated to absorb 70 per cent of the legal and illegal market of ivory (African Wildlife Foundation). China possesses important ivory carving industries, for ivory is highly valued by the Chinese, who use it mainly as item of fashion. The issue of ivory harvesting represents a market balance that heavily leans to the side of the demand fuelled by frenetic consumerism and endless greed of wealthy men. There is a clear issue of imbalance of power that results to an overexploitation of scarce resources. Moreover, the numerous protocols surrounding the protection of endangered species such as elephants are not assorted with legal structures that enable a strict punishment of the violation of the bans. Indeed, the American dentist who shot Cecil the Lion had all charges against him dropped. Those who are convicted of poaching charges are always the minor cogs of powerful hierarchical scale.
However, providing a glimpse of hope into this dismal situation is the agreement between USA and China as of September this year, which halts the ivory trade. If steps from global leaders like these do not fall into the vast realm of political discourse, elephants, unlike their mammoth counterparts, will survive going into the future.