Dear Executive Vice-President Timmermans,
The collapse of Africa’s natural ecosystems through habitat destruction, climate change and over-exploitation of natural resources such as the uncontrolled trade in wildlife, has reached a crisis point, one that is now compounded by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We, the Council of Elders of the African Elephant Coalition (AEC), an alliance of more than 30 African States, would like to call on the European Commission to consider the impact this pandemic has on Africa’s already strained biodiversity as well as the lives of billions of people throughout the continent.
We are encouraged that the Commission has adopted its Biodiversity Strategy. It rightly places the Strategy in the context of the COVID-19 crisis and its likely origin in the trade and consumption of wildlife. However, much more needs to be done.
Africa’s biodiversity ensures the health of humans and wildlife alike. All wildlife trade – legal and illegal – contributes to the extinction of entire species as well as the spreading of zoonoses. A 2016 UNEP report shows how 75% of infectious diseases that have emerged in recent years are zoonotic. The current pandemic has already had a dramatic impact on the lives of more than a billion people throughout the continent who rely on natural protected areas economically, culturally and for their state of health.
The integrity of Africa’s biodiversity is maintained by the wild animals that live within the natural environment. Elephants play a key role in promoting and safeguarding this biodiversity. They are the great landscape architects and gardeners of our continent. They create microhabitats for thousands of small vertebrates and invertebrates and provide a seed dispersal mechanism for many tree and plant species. In the dry months, elephants dig holes in the riverbeds to access water, which is then available to all other water-dependent species. They maintain structure of savannahs and forests by reducing the tree to grass ratio and create nutrient rich microclimates underneath dead trees. Overall, their effect is to increase and help support biodiversity.
Without elephants, our already threatened natural spaces would be drastically reduced. Wildlife will be confined to ever reducing ecosystems thus further exacerbating the potential spread of future pandemics. The trade in African elephants not only aggravates crucial biodiversity loss but puts the health of humans at risk.
We applaud the European Commission for leading the global effort to protect international biodiversity, so eloquently elaborated in the Strategy published today. We therefore call on the Commission and member states to set that global example and propose rules to close the EU ivory market for once and for all.
The Council of Elders for the African Elephant Coalition