The population of the African elephant declined considerably in the 20th century, with the species aggregate falling from 5 – 10 million to 1.3 million between the 1930s and 1980s (Barzdo, Caldwell and Martin, 1986). This lead to the upgrade of the elephant’s status from Appendix 2 (monitored trade) to Appendix 1 (trade only in special circumstances), as determined by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES, n.d); essentially illegalising the worldwide trade of ivory in 1989.This essay will assess if the ban on ivory trading is in concurrence with the ideals of sustainable development, focusing on four universally accepted core principles of equity, democracy, the precautionary principle and policy integration and planning (Carter, 2007).

The definition of sustainable development used throughout is that established by the Brundtland Commission (1987), ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’To begin the equitable effects of the ban must be taken into account, particularly as the majority of the negative distributional implications fall on lesser-developed countries. The pertinent forms of equity regarding sustainable development are intergenerational and intragenerational, with the former referring to exchanges between different generations and the latter interactions occurring within one generation (Vojnovic, 1995). Enforcing the trade ban complies strongly with intergenerational equity as it preserves elephant populations for future generations, but it appears to do so to the detriment of the current generation, who are denied the use of a valuable resource.

Of the 37 countries that house elephants all have at least 50% of their population living below the poverty line (CIA World Factbook, 2011), which suggests that the ivory ban is not in accordance with sustainable ideals as it curtails the ability of those currently in poverty to meet their own needs.With regard to intragenerational equity, if it is accepted that people must profit from a resource in order to conserve it (Moore, 2011) then it can be argued that there are other methods of commodifying elephants that are far more in line with the ethos of sustainable development than harvesting them for ivory, such as eco tourism. This capitalises on the non-use value of elephants and has become a profitable market in all of the range states that provide such services, with the contribution to the Gross Decimal Percentage of the three countries with the largest national parks (Arica Almanac, 2004) totalling 8.5% for Namibia (NTB, 2011), 12% for Botswana (USBAA, 2011a) and 17% for Tanzania (USBAA, 2011b). This method of profiting from elephants appears the most sustainable as it conserves their populations whilst ensuring the burden of their cost (in terms of financial compensation for the damage they can inflict on crops and people, and also the preservation of habitat that cannot be used for houses and crops) is redistributed to those who can afford it.The notion of democracy as a prerequisite for sustainable development was included in the Brundtland Commission (P65, 1987) report, ‘Sustainable development requires: a political system that secures effective citizen participation in decision making’, but it is somewhat unclear as to how large a part it played in the ivory trade ban.

On the surface the ban appears in good standing, as the elephant became a member of Appendix 1 following a vote at the 1989 CITES Conference, with 76/91 member countries in favour of the motion (Sand, 1997), although with no greater weight given to the preferences of range states during the initial vote despite the majority of those that voted against being countries that contained populations of elephants (Sand, 1997).However there is indication that it may have compromised the ability of local organisations that provide rural communities a platform to participate in and profit from the harvesting of their resources. One example is Zimbabwe’s Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE), which stands to gain approximately half the revenue of any legal ivory sold (Hutton, 1997). The stockpile of ivory in Zimbabwe is currently estimated at €10 million (Mushawevato, 2011), so in essence the ban is currently preventing the organisation from accessing €5 million, reducing the financial incentive for indigenous people to protect the elephant considerably.

The arguments from these nations, primarily focused on the danger elephants represented to people and crops and the economic value they provided in terms of revenue and employment (Bulte and Kooton, 1996), appeared to be largely ignored in favour of the more publicised and funded animal rights groups demands for the elephant to be protected at all costs. Consequently this has lead to suggestions that organisations such as CITES have been undermined in their attempts to conserve species through worldwide participation and instead have become a tool for legally allowing the developed countries to impose trade bans on the scarce resources of developing nations (Hutton, 1997).The continued denial of requests to reopen the ivory market permanently from African countries that have thriving elephant herds is also of note. Although exceptions have been made for one-time sales of ivory taken from elephants that had been culled for the most part CITES has dismissed appeals to remove the ban or make it permanent.

Their reason for this is that a partial relaxation of the ban in countries that have prospering elephant populations could have a negative effect on other populations, as it is difficult to know definitively where ivory was harvested (Hutton, 1997).This however fails to take into account new technology that could be implemented, such as using genetic markers to track the geographical origins of ivory (Wassar et al, 2008), and additionally it does not consider that outright bans only succeed in disrupting trade and increasing conservation on a relatively short term basis (Barbier and Pearce, 2000). The latter can be demonstrated by the graph in figure 1, which shows the drop in illegal ivory trading immediately following the ban and the subsequent rise in more recent years, although such evidence is only correlational. The continued denial to thoroughly reconsider downgrading the elephant, the undermining of political representation at local level and the possibility of institutional corruption suggest that CITES ivory trade ban is not democratic and as such does not abide by one of the key principles of sustainable development.

The most overt argument in favour of the prohibition on ivory trade complying with the values of sustainable development is derived from the precautionary principle, which can be defined thusly; ‘In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities’ (Rio Declaration Principle 15, 1992). The initial ban was the consequence of the vast decline of the elephant population in a short period of time due to anthropogenic causes, with the species standing at 600,000 at its commencement (Harford and Khanna, 1996), approximately 10% of its aggregate 50 years prior.Despite such data alone suggesting that an outright veto was indeed required due to the precautionary principle it should be noted that there are numerous methodological issues related to quantifying populations of wild animals, for example the most common method of data collection is to count herds from planes (Merz, 1986), which would have a very low reliability measure. Assuming however that the figure are at least somewhat correct it was found that although the rate of decline fell it did not stop entirely, with relatively recent estimates placing the population at 500,000 (Stiles, 2004).Whilst it may appear incongruous for the species total to have shrunk as opposed to grown it is analogous to that of the rhinoceros, of which all five subspecies were placed on Appendix 1 in 1976 with a combined population of roughly 65,000 (CITES, n.

d). As of 2010 there is believed to be 40,000 (STR, 2010a), with the loss largely attributed to illegal trade to supply the huge demand for rhino horn as a component of traditional Chinese medicine (STR, 2010B). The continued reduction of a species population after it has been placed on CITES Appendix 1 indicates that adhering to the precautionary principle strongly may in itself be unsustainable, in which case a more lenient and nuanced interpretation of the approach may be required for the ban to entirely conform to sustainable development.The final primary principle of sustainable development is policy integration and planning. There are two primary systems used by CITES to inform all policy decisions: Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) and the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), both of which measure and record levels and trends in poaching and trade.

There are problems related to both bodies however; with ETIS chiefly weakened by inadequate reporting of illegal ivory seizures, many of which do not account for the amount apprehended (Reeve, 2002). The criticisms levied at MIKE are numerous; including methodological challenges derived from the geographical locations chosen for collecting field data, the inability to prove causality and the expense of the system itself (Reeve, 2002).The most recent developments in this area are the 2010 African Elephant Action Plan (AEAP), a document submitted to CITES by all 37 African range states that addresses what is necessary to increase the success of elephant conservation, and the creation of the African Elephant Fund, an international trust devised to finance proposals from the AEAP. With regard to ivory the requirements prioritised highest in the AEAP are:1.

‘Recruit and train staff at all levels to combat poaching and illegal trade in ivory and other elephant products.2. Review and/or enact national legislation to provide for adequate penalties to deter illegal killing of elephants, trade in elephant ivory and other elephant products3. Identify origin of seized ivory and determine the pattern of illegal trade routes and networks for ivory smuggling using DNA analysis and other forensic techniques.

’ (AEAP, pg18, 2010).The inclusion of such, and the possibility of finance to make them feasible, indicates that both CITES and the range states are aware of the shortcomings of current supervisory schemes, although it will be some time before it will be clear if their new implementations will be any more successful.The relative failure of current initiatives suggests that an outright ban is not sustainable, and this leaves two alternative policy options: to remove the ban entirely or partially. In light of the precautionary principle the former option does not appear ideal, due to the high price of ivory (€300 per kg in 1989, (Barbier, 1995)) and demand from the eastern countries. An open access market (combined with indefinable property rights regarding elephants) may lead to above optimal harvesting as occurred prior to the ban (Wassar et al, 2010), particularly when taking in to account the increase in poaching that has followed each one off legal sale to date and the uncertainty such introduces into the market (Heltberg, 2001).

A partial ban, with diminished populations remaining on Appendix 1 and thriving populations downgraded to Appendix 2 or 3 is arguably the most sustainable method of controlling the ivory trade for two reasons. Firstly because it could actually reduce poaching, as if the price of legal ivory was set below that of the illegal market it would render the latter economically unviable (Stiles and Walker, 2010), and secondly due to increased incentives. The latter would ensure elephants are protected due to financial motivations, as there is evidence to suggest that maximum sustainable yield that can be obtained from elephants is highest via a combination of tourism and controlled trade (Bulte and van Cooten, 1999).In conclusion it seems that the international ban on the trade of ivory was somewhat in concordance with the ideals of sustainable development at its conception due to reasons derived from the precautionary principle, as the veto did appear to considerably slow the species rapid decline whilst additionally serving to help publicise moral guidance against the purchase of ivory in the west.

Such efforts have been negated significantly however due to the long-standing nature of the prohibition.This is due to the negative consequences it has had on the lives of those who share territory with elephants, the inability to regulate poaching that has lead to a lower population in some areas the before the ban and the perverse incentive it offers for local people to protect their populations. In light of this it appears that an outright ban on ivory trade is not presently in agreement with the principles of sustainable development, and that restricted trade that accounts for national population size would be a more useful tool for elephant conservation.