Killing Game: International Law and the African Elephant

Killing Game: International Law and the African Elephant

Killing Game: International Law and the African Elephant

Killing Game: International Law and the African Elephant


In 1989 the international community banned the international trade in elephant ivory; three years later the ban was renewed. Dr. Harland believes the ivory ban is the most controversial--and most misunderstood--piece of international wildlife law ever made. His book, Killing Game, seeks to unravel some of the misunderstandings, and it attempts to determine if international law can be an effective tool for the conservation of wildlife and if international law has served the African elephant well.


The African elephant, it has often been noted, is faced with two principal threats. One is from poachers, the other is from habitat loss. Poaching is a variable factor: it ebbs and flows according to the price of ivory and according to the effectiveness of antipoaching activities on the ground. Habitat loss is less variable. As Africa's population grows, the elephant's range tends to shrink.

Given these realities, is there any way in which international law can be used to ensure the long-term viability of the elephant in the wild? International law can certainly play a part in undermining the international trade in ivory and, in so doing, help to reduce poaching. Since 1989 the ivory trade has been banned in international law and, partly as a result of that, poaching in many areas has declined.

But the problem is more complicated. The goal of the policy maker is to address both problems: poaching and habitat loss. To address one problem while ignoring the other (or exacerbating it) may be useless, or worse. The question is therefore this: Is it possible to construct a legal matrix within which poaching is controlled and in which habitat is protected?

To answer that question requires one to look again at the nature of international law. Almost since the first international agreements were entered into, some three thousand years ago, the question has arisen: Who will comply with international law?

Governments go along with international law if it is in their interests to do so. That much is uncontroversial. The problem is to work out what is in a government's interest and what is not. This work identifies a number of factors of compliance that push governments toward or away from honoring their commitments under international law.

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