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The French grape vine was put under siege in the 19th century by an aphid commonly known as the 'grape phylloxera' (

There could have been a host of responses to the threat including an embargo on American vines which caused the problem in the first place which would have been too late, or perhaps toxic chemicals that would kill the bug. On the other end, French wine producers might just have tried to pick off the aphids (as they did with the aid of chickens and toads) and kept their wine within France (which they did not do), certainly limiting solutions given what French wine has been to the French economy.

In the end, American vine roots were grafted to French vines since American vines could resist the predation of the aphid. I am reminded of this chapter in history because of the current plight of the African elephant. The elephant is under siege because of poachers who are responding to the market value of ivory. Raw tusks are worth a great deal these days. But that worth is almost entirely in Asia where there is both a tradition of ivory carving that has never lapsed, unlike that of Europe where ivory carving is largely a thing of the past, and where the majority of Asians do not understand that to harvest a husk you must kill an elephant. America’s response to the elephant’s plight is to attempt to render ivory valueless by banning the sale of all ivory.

Please sirs, the problem and criminality of illegal ivory poaching is not in this country as the CITES conference report of 2013 makes quite clear. America loves the silver bullet solution. If we pass a law, then we, as American citizens, will obey it and all will be right with the world. That really worked well with Prohibition. Similarly, the marijuana laws that once caused the incarceration of thousands of young men, mostly black, are finally being recognized as unsuccessful.

We learn, but it takes time and in that time we turn law abiding citizens into criminals or skeptics of the American system, neither of which is healthy for our society. The law to ban the trading of all ivory is a false premise.

If we really want to help the elephants, it will require multiple armed forces ready to go after sophisticated poachers. Asian buyers will also need educating about the havoc their cultural imperative is causing. The solution is, as it always has been, at the root of the problem.

To read 'Ivory and the Law' by Clinton Howell, please click here.