The owner of a pricey ivory shop in Shanghai told the Times that a gift of his wares "says this relationship is as precious as ivory." An American
president, in solidarity with African, European Union, and G-8 nations, could say to his Chinese counterpart, "This relationship is more precious
than ivory," so let's deal with it quickly, accepting equal responsibility to a continent where both our nations can do a lot of good instead of a lot of
harm. No nation, whatever its past offenses, current troubles, or aspirations, will want the vanishing of the elephant on its record. Here's a last chance,
for all of us, to set things right, without need of problems and penalties that would cost far more than any country's stake in ivory.
It would put some life into CITES, meanwhile, if our delegation were instructed to initiate, right now, an honest, "time-bound" debate about who's doing
what to cause this mayhem and what forceful penalties are in order. And those penalties cannot issue from CITES alone. China some years ago finally got
serious about banning the domestic trade in rhino horns -- a Chinese law enforced with quite severe punishments -- for one simple reason: the United States
finally got serious about trade sanctions. A legal recourse known as the Pelly Amendment authorizes presidential action against nations that fail to comply
with international conservation regimes. Were the Obama administration to invoke this authority in the case of ivory, instantly life would become much
harder for ivory dealers, and the prospects much better for elephants.
Why not also a presidential speech about Africa's ordeal, on the theme of an all-encompassing ban on ivory, a complete ban on sales in America to set the
standard, the destruction of all stockpiles, the confident expectation of support among friends in Asia, and material aid for on-the-ground deterrence,
with Yao Ming, leaders of the range states, and a hundred African champions of the elephant to share the stage? All those anti-poaching protests in Nairobi
and elsewhere are meant to get our attention and China's, too. A White House event will gain them both in a hurry. For Westerners, President Obama observed
in his book, Africa can be "an idea more than an actual place." So, live from the East Room, let the world hear from people who know the actual place and
Across Asia, as these signals began to register, a wave of interdictions, roundups, shutdowns, and newly inspired reforms would soon be underway, exactly
as Steve Itela, director of Kenya's Youth for Conservation, envisions: "China could end the killing by immediately closing its domestic ivory markets and
severely punishing citizens engaged in illegal ivory trade. But it chooses ivory trinkets for a luxury market over live elephants." A different set of
options, all around, will yield a different set of choices. "White gold," the moment that fundamental political and economic interests are felt even
slightly on the other side of the scale, will seem a lot less precious to all concerned.
* * *
Mrs. Clinton noted that "the United States is the second-largest destination market for illegally trafficked wildlife in the world. And that is something
we are going to address." We are also a prime destination for the "trophies" of slaughtered elephants, and why not address that, too? With so many of them
dying as it is in Africa, do we really need Bob Parsons, the Trump boys, and that whole crowd going over there to kill even more?
Authority for the 1989 presidential order banning ivory imports derives from the African Elephant and Conservation Act of the previous year. Imports from
blood sport were exempted at the behest of the big-game hunting industry, a subculture of sadism that would appall the average citizen. Amend that law and
also the Endangered Species Act, to bar any elephant product, and thousands of elephants will be saved, just like that. The heart of America will be with
President Obama all the way. As for House and Senate Republicans, eager to "rebrand" themselves, it doesn't get much easier than a chance to show
compassion for their own party symbol.
The European Union likewise treats elephant trophies as "personal effects" carted in from abroad, even as customs authorities are suddenly finding
smugglers sneaking the other way, with tusks taken at zoos and, not long ago, hacked off the skeleton of a beast from the menagerie of Louis XIV
in France's Museum of Natural History. You know you've got an ivory crisis when you're catching poachers in the streets of Paris, and the EU should act
accordingly. All of our countries would be doing rhinos, lions, polar bears, and many other threatened or endangered animals a big favor with a ban on
every last "trophy" import, while also calling public attention to the final martyrdom of the elephant.
Instead of sending more killers over there, let's send more protectors. And let's direct aid to the scattered platoons of rangers, militia, and private
charities already giving their all.
They are people like Daphne Sheldrick, who was interviewed at her shelter in Kenya not long ago by Chelsea Clinton for NBC News. With her daughter Angela
and a team of men, Daphne is among those who rescue the calves who got away. What a strange sight the cameras caught: a little herd of five or six, led
down a trail by an African man, all just baby elephants. And the woman has been doing this for 50 years, her only thanks the sight of severely traumatized
fellow creatures growing to maturity, living in peace, and learning to trust. At first, she says, "they think we're the enemy." It takes a little while,
after that first impression that mankind has made on them, but they figure it out. The orphans see all of the other things that we can do, all of the other
powers that we have. Each time, it's just one baby elephant saved, a little thing done with great love. But there is more beauty to the picture than in all
the carving factories of Asia. I hope Chelsea shared some of this with her father. Maybe the Clinton Global Initiative can get involved, so that all the
victims of poaching will have an advocate in the most persuasive man in America.
Then there's an item out of Gabon, reported in the UK's Daily Mail, that someone in Hollywood needs to take a look at. It's about a fellow in that
country, "a mild-mannered British zoology professor" named Lee White, who left his post at Stirling University in Manchester to save the elephants and now
leads an army of 250 rangers -- placed at his disposal by President Ali Bongo -- to secure the nation's 13 parks. The military has offered an additional
force of 3,000 soldiers, and one day every herd in the rainforests of Gabon can relax at least a little under the protection of the legion of Professor
White. "I know I am in a strange position," he told the paper. "But this is no longer a biological issue -- it is a security issue. Either people like me
can keep studying these animals until they disappear or we have to join the fight to protect them." Jungles, ruthless gangs, brave African fighters, this
gallant man -- get it all in the script, and find the next Peter O'Toole to play the part.
It can be as hard to track the protectors, engaged in on-the-ground operations, as it is to get a fix on the enemy. At this very moment, plans are in
motion to get the fiends from Sudan who butchered the 89 elephants in Chad. Ministers from eight central nations met in Cameroon after the massacre and
declared that they would gather a thousand-man expeditionary force and send it east. The mission is part of a new Extreme Emergency Anti-Poaching Plan,
PEXULAB, which sounds promising -- more "air support, field vehicles, satellite phones, the establishment of a joint military command" -- until you see the
funds available for the effort, all of $2.5 million to cover Central Africa. From the Central African Republic, meanwhile, an America academic named Louisa
Lombard noted some gunfire there in a Times op-ed: "In remote parklands, far from public scrutiny, park rangers and militias led by foreign
mercenaries, safari guides and French soldiers on a cooperation mission for the government have been fighting a dirty war on behalf of the elephants." We
can only hope that's going well, and it's not hard to guess one of their objectives. Somewhere in the same vicinity is the Lord's Resistance Army of Joseph
Kony, who, as of April, carries a bounty of up to $5 million under America's War Crimes Rewards Program. Which suggests a general approach for the arrest
of all poachers: Put a price on their heads and see how they like it.
Some places, however, remain almost entirely undefended, such as the vast Niassa reserve where northern Mozambique meets Tanzania at the Rovuma River.
There, reports the Voice of America, "all the poachers have to do is cross over in canoes to get to the elephants, which they attack with high-caliber
weapons." Mozambique has enlisted help from the Wildlife Conservation Society, but poachers still kill four or five elephants a day, with special attention
lately to the matriarchs so that the others are left leaderless. "Rangers try to stop the poachers, though it is a lopsided battle. There are only 40
rangers to patrol the park ... and the rangers are armed with rifles that date back to World War II." Some are caught, but even then, explains VOA, the fines
are light and to this day "Mozambique's penal code dates back to Portuguese colonial times, and does not recognize poaching as a crime."
The whole effort across the continent, as you try piece it together, can seem a blur of rag-tag ranger patrols, improvised fighting units, multinational
efforts, NGO initiatives, and UN appendages. And however admirable each might be, one has the feeling that even in combination they look more formidable on
paper than they do on the ground. Somewhere in the effort too is our own U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages a fund set aside for elephants that,
in 2011, was given $1.7 million to spread around for law-enforcement and aerial surveillance efforts. It feels awkward to call any federal program
"underfunded," with a national debt in excess of $16 trillion, but that would be a candidate. And the extra $100,000 pledged last year by the state
department, for "a global system of regional wildlife enforcement networks," doesn't have the ring of a game-changer either.
Spend nothing at all or spend all that is needed, drawing on guidance from our U.S. Africa Command to equip national and local anti-poaching forces and
turn events toward victory. So many of the military and intelligence capabilities our country has developed or refined in recent years to deal with
terrorists are the same that would track and stop poachers, who in trans-Saharan Africa are terrorists, bringing misery and death to people as
well as to wildlife. American forces have the technological architecture and operational knowledge to put these killers to rout. Sharing that technology
and manpower, within a coordinated strategy that only America can lead, would give African states a decisive upper hand.
Second only to presidential action, and any military assistance that the United States can offer, if anything can help here it is fast action by American
philanthropies, providing the means of protection while keeping bureaucracy at a minimum. An example is the Google Foundation, which last year awarded $5
million to the World Wildlife Fund for drones to track both the herds and the killers. An outstanding idea: And if that or some other foundation will
donate more, drones -- and with them the capacity to pass information rapidly to law enforcement on the ground -- could in short order cover the most
Conservative foundations, too, instead of just keeping "fellows" flush at CATO and elsewhere, could get outside their think-tank comfort zone to accomplish
something real, enduring, and altruistic in Africa. As Jonah Goldberg put it last January, "the poachers need to be crushed." Though he is "not sure it
makes a lot of sense for the U.S. government to get officially involved militarily, I would love to see some foundation hire some ex-special forces to lend
a hand." Why not? A voluntary effort, perhaps in concert with well-targeted U.S. military support, to show that here, too, the good can be more resourceful
than the wicked.
"Policy to Come," as speech drafts put it when enthusiasm runs ahead of practical details. Enough to point out that the details and obstacles here,
whatever they are, haven't prevented foreign mercenaries from getting involved already, apparently, along with French soldiers and our own special forces
assigned to get terrorists poaching in Central Africa. And somehow a British zoology professor is leading soldiers of the Gabonese Republic up and down the
Ogooué River in defense of the elephants. How might a unified effort by highly trained American ex-servicemen and women, along with British and European
counterparts, affect the security environment? The mere presence, in proximity to every herd, of expert warfighters with equipment and technology equal to
the task, would have an enormous deterrent effect. If the aim is a sudden and sober recalculation of risk by ivory poachers, then let word get around the
range states that reinforcements have arrived, and from now on it's not just a few valiant men with old rifles that they'll have to contend with.
Of all people, it was a Chinese delegate to CITES who, on the way out the door in Bangkok, advised that everyone "focus less on the demand side of the
equation and instead consider the anti-poaching capacity of countries which were losing their elephants." He had a point, at least for the short term, in a
year when another thirty or forty thousand elephants will die for their ivory. The great flaw in the libertarian's demand-must-prevail argument is that,
unlike illicit narcotics, ivory is finite in supply and limited in location. And if those ranges, broad and scattered as they are, can be forcefully
defended, then demand will be killed off instead of the elephants. Demand for ivory might be a craze but it is not an implacable addiction. And commerce in
the material depends on unique skills that pass away with the carvers, so that even a decade of earnest protection buys vital time. In that crucial period,
for a fairly small price, private foundations, and all the more those with an environmental agenda, could accomplish more than CITES has in its four
decades, saving people and elephants alike from a threat that brings ruin to all.
The non-military aid could go to WildAid, Humane Society International, and other such advocacy groups, or straight to those like Save the Elephant, a
faithful and long-suffering organization that posts on its website such humble but essential objectives as: "Goal 1. Get a supercub aircraft in the air
over Tsavo National Park in Kenya, scene of a recent poaching surge, to assist the Kenya Wildlife Service in protecting the areas. ... The aircraft and pilot
are ready to go. We need to build them a hangar and put fuel in the aircraft to keep it airborne every day this year."
Someone get these people the hangar and fuel. Get the anti-poaching forces all of the equipment, weapons, aircraft, and communications and surveillance
capacity they need, in every place they need them. Provide chief ranger Joseph Okouyi in Gabon and his men the planes and boats and camps that they need,
and Professor White whatever he asks, and the Sheldricks and others like them funds to nourish the orphans and keep them safe. And in every way, on every
front, let them know that the United States of America is on their side.
We should give to these kindhearted people all that we can, and our prayers, too, because this forlorn, sentimental cause of theirs is the cause of
humanity, in the story of life that is bigger than humanity, and right now the fight is not going our way. This is ground we cannot afford to surrender,
the final refuge of animals who mourn their own, and deserve more than to be let go and mourned by us. We would miss the elephants, forever, with only
regrets and recollections to fill the space, these grand, peaceable fellow creatures whose final, bloody departure from the earth would warrant a rebuke of
Old Testament proportions: "What is this that thou hast done?"
Let the spirit of it all be Francis -- the pope and, better still, the saint, who "walked the earth like the pardon of God." But let tactics, strategy, and
diplomacy, across Asia and Africa, be inspired by men a little more familiar with what it takes sometimes to protect the beauty of the created world.
Poachers, explained chief ranger Paul Onyango to Jeffrey Gettleman, as they surveyed the bodies of twenty slain elephants at a park in Congo, should not
expect negotiations, or warnings, or even much in the way of due process: "Out here, it's not michezo." As the Times translates, it's a
Swahili way of conveying to enemies that this is serious and we don't play games.