It’s Time to Speak Up for Elephants! 5 Takeaways From the Federal Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking Meeting

Photo by Mike Paredes, Map Photographic

Photo by Mike Paredes, Map Photographic

Elephants can make a lot of noise when they want to. They trumpet gloriously, they rumble, they snort. They can even communicate with each other between miles and miles by stomping vibrations into the ground. But the one thing they can’t do yet is speak up for themselves. That’s why we’re here.

On June 9 the Federal Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking held its third public meeting in Washington DC, and Elephants DC advocated on behalf of the world’s remaining wild elephants, who face extinction in as little as a decade from the vicious illegal ivory trade.

photo8For a little background info: the Advisory Council plays an important role in helping the United States shape, strengthen, and refine critical policies that could be far reaching to protect elephants and other endangered animals. Composed of former government and non-government experts in various fields, the Council serves as a bridge between the public and the private sectors and provides key advice to the President’s Task Force on combating wildlife trafficking.

During Monday’s meeting the Council first presented recommendations it developed to help implement the President’s National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking (which includes, among other things, the newly strengthened partial ban on ivory sales that we’ve mentioned before on this blog.) Then, the Council opened the floor for public comment.

It was an enlightening meeting about a topic that many people are passionate about — including those of us at Elephants DC. Here are 5 key takeaways that we left with afterwards:

1. The Advisory Council is doing some truly amazing work.

The hot topic for the Council remains the issue of banning (or partially banning) ivory sales in the U.S. As important as we think that ban is, banning ivory sales is actually just one piece of the puzzle that the Council is tackling in the fight against wildlife trafficking — a crime that turns a $19 billion profit for criminals worldwide.

During the meeting, the Council finalized 19 pretty awesome and wide-reaching recommendations that could make a huge difference towards saving elephants and other species.

Members of the Federal Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking met in Washington, DC on June 9 to discuss their recommendations.

Members of the Federal Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking met in Washington, DC on June 9 to discuss their recommendations.

You can read the full recommendations here. Some key highlights include:

  • Taking long-overdue steps to increase enforcement of wildlife trafficking laws, strengthening current laws, and increasing penalties for criminals.
  • Using technology and better data sharing with other nations to strengthen international anti-trafficking partnerships, including establishing a central, comprehensive wildlife trafficking database.
  • Getting smart people together to think more seriously about reducing the demand for ivory products in the long term, including developing a better understanding of consumer demographics and behavior.

While Elephants DC believes a full ban on ivory sales would go far to ending the ivory trade as soon as possible, the Council’s recommendations are incredibly important steps towards ending wildlife trafficking. We’re excited about their potential and urge the Presidential Task Force to start implementing them right away.

2. Beware the small, vocal minority. (No, really.)

History has shown that small, vocal minorities can change the world. And that’s a great thing… usually. Unfortunately, in this case, that minority is trying to convince the Advisory Council, the Wildlife Trafficking Task Force, and the President to keep ivory, rhino horn, and “hunting trophies” flowing into the United States.

The good news is that the vast majority of Americans want to do everything we can to prevent elephants from reaching extinction. For a few great examples:

  • In May, Elephants DC’s totally unfunded, grassroots petition to the White House gained 11,602 signatures — one symbolic signature for every elephant killed this year through April.
  • The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) says that half a million people have supported the President’s strengthened rules for elephants.
  • 80 percent of New Yorkers support stronger ivory restrictions.

And the list goes on. Support for the elephants and against the ivory trade is strong!

However, on Monday, the Council meeting’s public comments section featured speakers defending their bad investments in ivory products. These self-professed “ivory lovers” spent a lot of time talking about the hundreds of thousands of dollars that their collections are worth… and hardly any time about the elephants. And the Safari Club International showed up in full force to (unsuccessfully) lobby against the recent temporary ban of imports from trophy hunting in Zimbabwe and Tanzania.

Many of them were skilled speakers with carefully honed rhetoric; some are backed by organizations with deep pockets.

Although these folks are the minority when it comes to protecting elephants, they’re a vocal and well-funded minority. That’s why it’s all the more important that we counter their voices with the truth. Ivory fuels terrorism, and a continued ivory trade will result in nothing less than elephants’ extinction.

3. The enemies of elephants will try really hard to convince you that they’re friends.

Remember that mean friend you had in middle school… the one who seemed cool with you and was always nice to your face, but then secretly sabotaged you the minute you turned your back?

Well, elephants had a lot of “frenemies” like that speaking up at the Council meeting. Almost every anti-ban comment started out with an obligatory acknowledgement of how tragic the elephant poaching crisis is in Africa. They expressed concern for the living elephants who are being slaughtered en masse for their tusks… and then they proceeded to claim that trophy hunting and the U.S. ivory trade are actually intended to help protect these elephants.

If you didn’t know any better, you might think that we actually do live in the fantasy world that these folks describe as they try to justify their continued interest in buying, selling, and importing ivory.

To rationalize their “lifelong love affairs with ivory,” they paint a picture of a world where ivory is a “renewable natural resource,” where banning the ivory trade “hurts” elephants, where selling more and more ivory products actually “reduces the demand” for ivory. They’ll try claiming that killing elephants for their tusks is the only way to feed hungry African children, and that hunting elephants for sport is a form of sustainable tourism that actually saves elephants. (Yeah, right.) They’ll try anything.

Frenemies are the worst, because you can’t trust a word they say.

photo1Luckily, we know better. We know it’s disingenuous for anyone who wants to continue to buy and sell ivory products for profit, or who wants to hunt endangered elephants for trophies, to claim that they’re motivated by protecting elephants or supporting impoverished communities. They’re not. They’re interested in their own profits, in their own unsustainable hobbies and entertainment, and in their own deeply selfish desires.

We’re interested in the elephants. It’s as simple as that.

4. Musicians and museums still have some legitimate concerns, but they should be settled soon.

Some of the speakers were well intentioned musician and museum representatives concerned that stricter ivory laws could limit their ability to carry their instruments or museum collections internationally.

These are understandable concerns, but the good news is that the Council, the Task Force and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working to address them. For example, the Council has recommended providing a non-burdensome permit process for international musicians to travel with their instruments.

The sooner these non-commercial concerns are addressed, the sooner we can get back to tackling what’s most important: ending the commercial ivory trade that fuels poaching.

5. Elephants need your voice too.

Elephants DC was proud to have four awesome presenters speaking up on behalf of elephants at the Council meeting. (For example, if you haven’t seen it yet, check out Elephants DC founder and president Jen Samuel’s brief but powerful speech to the Council. Elephants DC vice president Mike Paredes, secretary Stacy Davis, and member Jose de Arteaga also gave moving speeches.)

But if there’s one thing we learned at the Council meeting, it’s this: We need to make sure that the majority of Americans who support elephants isn’t a silent majority.

We can’t let the ivory lovers and trophy hunters get the last word. We all need to speak up to make sure the Council’s recommendations are fully implemented — and, better yet, strengthened. You truly can make a difference.

Opportunities for you to speak up for elephants are coming up really soon. We’ll keep you posted.


Stay tuned to Elephants DC’s Facebook page and this blog for key upcoming opportunities to participate in the rulemaking process as the Federal Government moves forward to take action against wildlife trafficking. The elephants need you!


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