10 out of 10 for imagination, Botswana!

2015-07-20 14:30

There has been considerable pressure on countries, especially in the last couple of years, to destroy any elephant ivory stocks they may have; whether those are tusks or carvings and whether they are legal-origin or confiscated from poachers and smugglers.

Personally, I am far from convinced that such destructions, and there have now been many, actually result in all the positive impacts that lobbyists would have us believe. Having said that, some of the grand showcase events, such as the recent one in New York’s Times Square, have most certainly achieved the positive outcome of bringing the subject of elephant poaching and ivory trade to the attention of large sectors of the general public that might otherwise be ignorant of the seriousness of such crimes.

I have some empathy for those nations who resist the campaigners and decline to simply join the queue in piling up the pieces and either crushing them or (with very considerable difficulty) burning them. I noticed that Namibia has declined to jump on the wagon[i]. And I was very taken by the statement of its Minister of Environment and Tourism who, when challenging the logic of destruction, pondered, “…why don’t we do the same with diamonds when we confiscate them from thieves?”

I have often wondered whether there is not some middle ground where what is, after all, a potentially valuable natural resource, could not be put to some constructive use.

Full marks, therefore, to the Government of Botswana for having identified an excellent way to move forward constructively, imaginatively, and with independence of thought. If you haven’t yet heard what has happened, look at this -

http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2015/07/16/life-size-ivory-elephant-sculpture-unveiled-in-botswana/

Or you can watch the unveiling on YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdUbafujNy0

The ceremony was led by the country’s President and it has achieved some media coverage, although not nearly as much as some of the destruction rituals. What is surely very disappointing, though, is what appears to be a significant lack of congratulations or plaudits from the countless groups and individuals calling for an end to the trade in ivory.

Rather than engaging in some here-today, gone-tomorrow, one-off publicity exercise, Botswana has found a way to deploy the image of an elephant, constructed using tusks gathered from animals which died through natural mortality, as an emblem that will last for months and months; if not years and years.

It may be that the NGO community, or some within it, has good reason not to applaud how Botswana has chosen to handle this thorny issue. But they risk their silence being viewed as sour grapes.

[i] https://www.newera.com.na/2015/07/15/namibia-burn-ivory-rhino-horns-shifeta/

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