By far the most dangerous threat now facing the African elephant is not poachers or Chinese ivory carvers, it is CITES’ rulemaking. CITES is indispensible to the protection of wildife around the world, but for elephants the high dollar values, insignicant enforcement, and government corruption make the ivory trade unlike nearly any other animal product traded in the world.
As described in this National Geographic blog post, we used narcotics as a surrogate in designing and implementing our Blood Ivory story investigation. Once you see the ivory trade through the prism of illegal drugs, you can understand the absurdity of the way ivory is regulated by CITES, and the danger of proposals now on the table.
The world would never leave policing of the narcotics trade to botanists even though cocaine and heroin are plant products, but we do leave wildlife trafficking to biologists (and economists), and that is a big part of the problem. CITES Secretary General John Scanlon is absolutely correct that we need to employ the same approach to wildlife crime that we do to drug trafficking. That should not be news, but it is.