An editorial from
The Baltimore Evening SunBy human scale, elephants are enormous. Yet their intelligence, strong familial attachments and largely gentle natures make them at once both awesome and endearing. Sadly, though, for many years human beings have been more enamored with the ivory from their tusks than with the survival of the species. In the past decade, the number of African elephants has fallen from 1.3 million to 609,000, primarily because of illegal poaching.
In an effort to stop the slaughter, President Bush announced a ban on the importation of ivory from the African elephant. That action, which came a year ago Tuesday, prompted similar bans by other countries, including the European Community and Japan. Member states of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species, or Cites, also agreed to an international ban, which took effect Jan. 18.
To mark the anniversary of the U.S. action, the World Wildlife Fund issued a report this week assessing the effectiveness of the ban. The news is good. Demand has dropped dramatically, dragging down ivory products still legally available in this country. In Africa, the price of raw ivory has fallen as much as 90 percent.
Law enforcement efforts have been powerless to stop poachers. But economics may prove a more powerful tool. When poaching doesn't pay, there's little incentive to slaughter elephants. Much of the drop in demand is due to the ban. But another important benefit is its effect on public opinion.
Ivory is profitable only when people want to buy it, and when the president announces that buying ivory contributes to the annihilation of elephants, those disturbing news reports from Africa suddenly sink into the public consciousness. That's a lesson worth noting.
Note also that the ivory ban is not yet a complete success. Markets in South Korea and China are still open to ivory, and wildlife officials worry that they could encourage continued poaching. The effort to save the African elephant from extinction is not over. But, however belatedly, the success of the past year brings reason for hope.