One year into its existence, the Elephant Crisis Fund (ECF) has already made critical interventions in stopping the poaching, thwarting the traffickers and reducing demand for ivory.
The ECF began life in May 2013 as a joint initiative between Save the Elephants and the Wildlife Conservation Network. What follows is a brief summary of projects that received funding up to May 2014.
The very first grant that the ECF made was a good example of how this new model of catalytic, fast-moving conservation financing operates. In May of 2013, shortly after the Elephant Crisis Fund had been established, a breakaway faction of a guerrilla group in the Central African Republic stormed the forest elephant stronghold of Dzanga Sanga and killed 26 elephants. That would have been just the start if not for the rapid response of a security team from the Wildlife Conservation Society. Within 24 hours of hearing the news the ECF had sent $100,000 to help fund the operation. No more elephants were lost.
Gabon is one of the best hopes for wildlife conservation in Central Africa, but despite great commitment from the highest levels of government to the National Parks elephant numbers in Minkebe National Park plummeted by two thirds in under a decade. Lee White, Director of Parcs Gabon, is now leading a project to shore up the defences of nearby Ivindo National Park with a two-year ECF grant to prevent the same happening there.
Meanwhile in East Africa, one of the last strongholds of Great Tuskers in Africa are to be found in the Tsavo National Parks in Kenya. Defending these giants in this vast, largely roadless, region is a challenge. Here the ECF funds the Tsavo Trust, who operate an air wing with ground support that keeps an eye on the big bulls (and the estimated 14,000 other elephants that live here) and helps flush out poachers, all in tight collaboration with the Kenya Wildlife Service.
Mozambique’s Niassa Reserve is one of the five most important elephant areas in Africa. Significant bilateral aid is in the pipeline, but until it arrives the population needs help. The ECF is funding the Wildlife Conservation Society to improve core management, law enforcement and monitoring work. Increasing efficiency and effectiveness is key to making limited conservation resources count in such a large region is crucial, and WCS will also be rolling out the SMART system to analyse threats and guide patrol planning.
A key strategy in combatting the criminal cartels that profit from the illegal ivory trade is to increase the risk of dealing in ivory to a point where its no longer worth being involved. This means increasing the chance of them getting caught, and increasing the penalties they face if they do.
Working Dogs for Conservation (WDC) are world leaders in deploying dogs to work for wildlife. Sniffer dogs are expensive and require careful management, and too often they are deployed in Africa without the necessary support structures to ensure their effectiveness. To ensure the best value for money on future projects, the ECF has funded WDC to investigate how best to use dogs for the detection of both poachers and ivory.
All too often poachers and traffickers that have been caught at great risk, effort and expense, only to be let off by a court that doesn’t recognise – or doesn’t wish to recognise– the magnitude of the crime. The ECF has funded Wildlife Direct to train magistrates and to create a watchdog system in Kenya’s courtrooms. At the start of the programme only 4 per cent of suspects in wildlife cases were going to jail, and the maximum fines received for ivory was only $350. A year later, some ivory traffickers were receiving life imprisonment and others fines of up to 20m.
As with so much enforcement work, intelligence is key. The ECF is funding work in some of the most critical pressure points in the elephant crisis. However, although we’d love to brag about it, we cannot do so at this stage for fear of jeopardising the work.
Without a dramatic reduction in the price of ivory it will be difficult – if not impossible – to prevent the loss of many of Africa’s elephant populations. China is currently the world’s biggest market, more thanks to its demographic and economic explosion than to unique cultural reasons.
In China the ECF has helped fund WildAid, the pioneer in the use of celebrities to change public opinion in China, gaining powerful publicity through finely-tuned television spots by stars like Yao Ming, Jackie Chan, David Beckham, Prince William and Li Bingbing. Government policy has already shifted. In January a six-tonne ivory stockpile was destroyed, and in March 2014 Yao Ming presented the National People’s Congress with a petition – backed by many of China’s business leaders – asking the government to ban the sale of ivory within China.
A complimentary campaign by the International Fund for Animal Welfare has also been funded by the ECF. This has already borne fruit in the US, where attempts to water down President Obama’s actions to save elephants through banning the domestic trade in ivory within the US have met stiff opposition. 450,000 signatories have signed a petition asking Obama to stay strong, following an ongoing campaign by IFAW, WWF and WCS.
To invest in the future of elephants, please donate to the Elephant Crisis Fund.