Ivory Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:24 pm on 17th July 2018.

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Photo of Lord Jones of Cheltenham Lord Jones of Cheltenham Liberal Democrat 5:24 pm, 17th July 2018

My Lords, I welcome this Bill to ban dealing in ivory. It is good that the UK is one of the leading countries legislating in the war against elephant poaching, along with China, Hong Kong and, possibly, the USA. I say possibly because it was reported recently that the US President’s wildlife board will permit wildlife trophies to be brought back to America. A young person told me that if this is true, we may have to change the song “Nellie the Elephant” to remove the words “Trump, trump, trump”.

We are in the midst of a global poaching crisis, which threatens decades of conservation successes as well as the survival of many species: rhinos, lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, elephants and, as we have heard today, hippos and pangolins. The illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be the fourth largest transnational illegal trade, after narcotics, counterfeiting and human trafficking, and it is worth up to £19 billion a year.

There are two elements to the problem: the market for ivory, and poaching. The big market for ivory was China, along with Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia. China is now banning trade in ivory, or it says it is, but elephant populations continue to fall due to illegal killing and other human activities, notably loss of habitat, while seizures of large-scale illegal ivory shipments were at record highs in 2016. In east Africa, where elephant populations have nearly halved in a decade, illegal killing has dropped back to pre-2008 levels, and in southern Africa elephant numbers are stable or increasing. However, in central Africa illegal killing remains high.

Education remains key. I read a survey some time ago which revealed that three-quarters of people in east Asia believe that ivory is a mineral. Documentaries such as those made by Sir David Attenborough and others should be distributed worldwide, particularly to schools, so that the next generation will appreciate better that ivory comes from dead elephants and that wildlife is precious only when it is alive. If the market could be eradicated, poaching would stop, because there would be no point.

However, in the meantime, steps must be taken in those countries where poaching occurs by helping the wildlife wardens to do their job. There needs to be a tangible reward for information on poachers and their whereabouts. When park rangers, game wardens and other law enforcement agencies receive intelligence on poachers, they need to act and need training and equipping to meet the task. This costs money and a long-term commitment, although in reality the finances are marginal in global terms.

I am not in favour of the death penalty, but to stop poaching it may be necessary to eradicate a few poachers until the message sinks in that poachers are effectively on licence all day, every day, of every year, from now on. Botswana’s ministry of wildlife and tourism has a policy of zero tolerance: it does not negotiate with poachers. They are told to lay down their weapons, and if they resist, they do not resist for long.

In some countries, poachers with machine guns use helicopters in their murky exploits. They shoot elephants and rhinos, land, take the ivory or horns and take off again. This is not random poaching; as the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, said, it is highly financed organised crime. There is now hard evidence that these helicopter missions are linked to terrorism, drug money laundering and arms smuggling. They kill for ivory to fund terrorist activity or drug activity elsewhere in the world.

I favour the bazooka option for the helicopter raids. It needs only a few of these aircraft to be blasted out of the sky to ram home the message that the poachers are not going to win. It follows, therefore, that declaring war on terrorists and terrorism by removing sources of income extends to eliminating the poachers, and this could most usefully be tasked and funded from anti-terrorism budgets.

Our Government, to their credit, have ring-fenced foreign aid. It is about time we spent more of that budget on crushing the four linked crimes of terrorism, gun running, drug money laundering and wildlife poaching, perhaps using the fees for exemption certificates being brought in by this Bill. I note that we are sending more troops to Afghanistan. Perhaps they could be offered some R&R when they return, by training more wildlife wardens in areas where elephant poaching goes on. A few British soldiers armed with portable plastic bazookas should do the trick.

One shining example of where elephant populations are increasing is Botswana; I draw attention to my declared interest in that country. Botswana’s rulers pay attention to, and love, their wildlife. The country’s first President, Seretse Khama, and successive Presidents, knew and know the value of wildlife—not for its ivory and skins, but to attract visitors from around the world to see these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. I understand that, should noble Lords wish to have elephants on their estates, Botswana will allow as many as you like free of charge; you just need to arrange the transport.

I should like to end with this personal experience. A few years ago, I was on a boat on the River Chobe near Kasane in northern Botswana. In the distance, I could see a large, dark object in the river; it was a very large elephant. As we got closer, I asked the guide why the elephant was there. “She is dying”, he said. “She is in the water to keep cool; she is the matriarch”. All around, there were hundreds, maybe thousands, of elephants of all shapes and sizes. A few weeks later, I went back to ask what had happened to the elephant. I was told that she had died, that the wildlife wardens had dragged her body on to the river bank and removed the tusks—that is what they do with dead elephants in Botswana; the Government take control of the ivory. Then, for hour upon hour, elephants had filed past her in an orderly fashion, touching her body with their trunks; they were her family, paying their respects.

Elephants are amazingly intelligent creatures with feelings, just like humans. In my view, they are far more intelligent than poachers, the organisers of poaching, those involved in the ivory trade and, indeed, the end consumers. Bad humans have caused the current crisis. It is now up to good humans to ensure the species survives by eradicating once and for all the trade in ivory, which has led to the horrible and indefensible crime of poaching. This Bill is one step along that road, and I welcome it.