2018 must be the year we defeat the ivory traders, writes Boris Johnson

Writing in The Times, the Foreign Secretary says that a new global consensus, driven by UK leadership, is emerging that buying or selling ivory is unacceptable.

Ivory Burning Site in Nairobi
The Ivory Burning Site in Nairobi. Photo: Peter Chira/African Wildlife Foundation

Boris Johnson has written in the Times newspaper about how the coming year must be the one in which ivory traders are defeated.

Beginning his article, the UK Foreign Secretary says that the one question he would never want the children of the future to ask is “Why did you not do more to save the elephant?”

Humanity is privileged to share the planet with these magnificent throwbacks from the Pleistocene, whose every attribute is a walking metaphor, and to be frank I find it heart-breaking to observe how their numbers have declined.

Mr Johnson goes on to discuss the work of Iain Douglas-Hamilton who just under forty years ago assembled a small squadron of light aircraft and embarked on the first comprehensive survey of the elephant populations of Africa.

His research found that there were 1.3 million elephants roaming the savannah and rainforest in 1979, but today their number has been decimated, with just 415,000 African elephants remaining and worryingly the pace of slaughter recently accelerating.

Since 2006, at least 110,000 elephants have been destroyed. Half the elephants in East Africa and nearly two thirds in Tanzania are now no more.

If we do nothing, there is a real danger that our great grandchildren will grow up in a world without wild elephants. They will look at yellowing photographs of giant herds, they will watch David Attenborough documentaries on their ipads (or whatever virtual reality wizardry will then be commonplace), they will marvel at how such creatures once walked the earth, and then they will point accusing fingers and ask why their forebears – you and me – somehow neglected to save the elephant from extirpation?

The Foreign Secretary goes on to say that it is fantastic news that decisive action is now being taken, such as the Chinese government’s ban on the domestic sale of ivory, albeit with certain exemptions, coming into force from 31 December.

He also discusses the Britain’s contribution to working to stop the ivory trade, including the contributions of The Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry.

In the New Year, the UK Government will act on their plans for a British ban on domestic ivory sales, and in October Mr Johnson will co-host with an international conference in London on how to curb the Illegal Wildlife Trade with Michael Gove.

Mr Johnson also mentions his visit to Kenya in March, during which he met the UK-funded Anti-Poaching Team that protects the elephants of Lewa Conservancy.

Boris Johnson in Lewa
A suited Boris Johnson looks out over Lewa. Photo: Twitter/foreignoffice

Towards the end of his article, he states that his aim is to make 2018 the year of UK leadership in defeating the ivory trade, saying that wherever he goes as Foreign Secretary and whenever he meets the representatives of a relevant country, he will repeat the government’s message.

I’ve instructed our diplomats in embassies across the world to have frank conversations with our friends and allies.

He concludes by adding that poaching isn’t the only threat facing Africa’s elephants due to their habitat being lost or degraded year after year, and constantly locked in a struggle for land and water with rising human populations.

However, Mr Johnson ends on an optimistic not sating that: “with determination and goodwill, I have no doubt that we can solve these problems – just as we are acting to curtail the ivory trade – and ensure that our great grandchildren share our planet with elephants.”

You can read Boris Johnson’s article in full on The Times (paywall) or UK Government websites. 

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