Statement of Senator James M. Jeffords
Hearing on the Asian and African Elephant Conservation Acts
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
November 4, 1997

Thank you for holding this important hearing on the fate of elephants. I commend you, Mr. Chairman, and all the members of this committee for taking the time to address this important issue.

Three years ago I traveled to Africa to witness first hand the status of elephants in the wild. I learned that by the late 1980's, the African elephant populations had dramatically declined. Fueled by the great demand for ivory, elephants were illegally poached and their tusks sold for high prices on the international market.

To stem the illegal slaughter, the international community joined with African countries to eliminate the ivory trade and protect elephants in their natural habitat.

To our credit, the U.S. Congress moved fast, enacting the African Elephant Conservation Act in 1988. This legislation provides assistance to African nations in their efforts to stop poaching and implement effective conservation programs. The Act has funded many programs vital to the preservation of the African elephant.

In Africa, I saw dramatic success. The U.S. funded programs focussed on empowering the local residents to value and protect these great animals. Poaching is fought fiercely in order to preserve the income derived from travelers and tourists coming to see the elephant. U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents-in Africa explained to me the importance of proper management of the habitat and value of the U.S. funded programs.

With these efforts, elephant populations have stabilized and are on the increase in southern Africa, international ivory prices remain low, and wildlife rangers are better equipped to stop illegal poaching activities.

~Given all these efforts, the African elephant is still hunted and remains at great risk. To ensure that this magnificent animal continues to survive in the wild, we must maintain our efforts. Passing a reauthorization of the African Elephant Conservation Act at this time will indicate to the international community that the United States is doing its part to assist African nations in protecting the elephant.

Based on the success of the African programs, I have introduced legislation to provide similar resources to protect the Asian elephant. Since the challenges of the Asian elephant are so great, resources to date have not been sufficient to cope with the continued loss of habitat and the consequent depletion of Asian elephant populations. The bill is structured to ensure that all funds appropriated by Congress are matched by the private sector to fully implement badly needed preservation programs.

The situation in Asia is dire. Elephant populations in the wild are barely sustainable. A joint commitment and effort of nations within the range of Asian elephants, the United States and other countries, and private efforts is needed to ensure the long-term viability of these animals. The committee's action in passing this legislation will prove vital to maintaining elephants in Asia.

Continued illegal poaching and sales of ivory greatly concerns me. Recent controversy over the lifting of the ivory ban and funding for U.S. A.I.D. Campfire program should not, however, impede passage of these important bills. Lifting of the ivory ban is indeed troublesome and no U.S. funds should be used to work to expand the ivory trade. The programs funded through the Department of Interior for elephant conservation have not to my knowledge been connected to the ivory trade issue.

I am a strong proponent of the protection and conservation of these magnificent animals. These elephants are the some of world's largest land animals. if we do not act now, future generations may not be able to experience these animals living in the wild, but only behind bars.