Global Economy
September 18, 2015

Can the TPP help save elephants from extinction? We have to try.

By Andrea Durkin


The countries in the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) are caretakers of some of the most ecologically significant natural resources in the world, from the Amazon Rainforest to the Greater Mekong to the Coral Triangle. They also govern ports along routes that criminals use to move poached wildlife, illegally logged forest products, and the ill gotten gains of “pirate” fishing.

That’s why the TPP countries are not overlooking opportunities to prevent illegal trade in these precious and protected resources.

On average, an elephant is killed every 15 minutes for ivory.

Ivory is the currency by which terrorists and transnational criminals finance their operations. They are slaughtering elephants and rhinos into extinction for ivory and placing in jeopardy the people who live in communities where wildlife is found.

The situation is grave in many habitats. In June, Tanzania issued a census indicating they have lost 65,000 elephants – 60% of its 2009 population. Mozambique has lost half of its elephant population. The numbers are staggering – around 30,000 African elephants fall victim every year.

Law enforcement in the countries where poaching occurs are deploying anti-poaching software, ivory-sniffing dogs, and aerial drones where possible. Park rangers put their lives at risk daily. They can’t do it alone, and high demand in China – and the U.S. – puts ever more pressure on their limited resources.
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Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing may account for as much as one-fifth of the global catch.

According to World Wildlife Fund, oceans support the livelihoods of an estimated 520 million people who rely on fishing and fishing related activities. 2.6 billion people depend on fish as an important part of their diet. IUU fishing is a global hazard to ocean ecosystems, depleting sensitive fish stocks and sweeping in threatened species such as sharks, seabirds, or sea turtles as by catch. Somewhere between 11 and 26 million tons of seafood is caught each year through “pirate” fishing.

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As much as 30% of all wood traded globally is derived from illegal logging.

 Extraction and trade in illegally logged timber, paper and derivative products such as packaging and furniture leaves a devastating effect on the world’s most valuable forests as well as local communities who owe their livelihoods to well-managed natural resources.  Over 32 million acres of natural forest are logged illegally each year. Illegal logging cost the U.S. forest products industry some $1 billion annually in lost export opportunities and depressed U.S. wood prices, according to the American Forest & Paper Association.

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Bringing trade tools to the fight.

The TPP participants see an opportunity.

TPP could raise the stakes by taking on harmful fish subsidies that contribute to overfishing and requiring that countries implement the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Anti-corruption commitments can crack down on the opportunity for officials to profit from illegal wildlife trade.  Transparency and information sharing among customs officials is critical in the fight against smuggling and misreported shipments.

International cooperation through TPP can promote best practices for conducting document checks and port inspections.  Coordinated approaches can help defeat the tactics of criminals re-routing illegal cargo seeking out “ports of convenience”.

Individually, the task of combatting illegal trade is daunting. That’s why using all the tools are our disposal is critical and the TPP is an important new tool to bring to the collective fight.

 Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo has lost all of its rhinos to poaching.  National Geographic devoted its September 2015 issue to reporting and photos from the front lines of efforts by park rangers to protect their elephants from the same fate. 
Check out their interactive maps tracking what roads illegal ivory travels, which ports they leave from and what ships they travel on to reach buyers in Asia, Europe and America.

Sources:  Global Ocean Commission, INTERPOL, World Wildlife Fund, UNEP, USAID

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(adapted from the 96 Elephants Campaign)
  • African forest elephants move with the change in seasons, going from swamp in the dry season to lowland rainforest in the wet.  They can walk across large national parks in as little as three days.
  • Elephants play a crucial ecological role in their habitats, including digging pools of water and opening forest trails that other animals depend on.  They disperse seeds over many miles, making way for new life to grow.
  • Elephants express grief and compassion.  They mourn their dead, staying by the bodies of slain herd members for hours or even days and pay homage to the bones of their dead by gently touching the skulls and tusks with their trunks and feet.
  • African elephants can live 60 to 70 years in the wild.  Due to poaching, 65% of the African forest elephant population has disappeared since 2002.  Older matriarchs are targeted for their large tusks, leaving a generation of young, orphaned African elephants to grow up without guidance.