Tag Archives: ivory

Carved Ivory.

The price of ivory is up 1,000% since global ban on ivory trade, but is slowly decreasing

The global ban on ivory has increased the price of tusks on legitimate and black markets tenfold.

Carved Ivory.

Image via Pixabay.

Back in 1989, the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) issued a worldwide ban on the trading of ivory. The move was intended to insulate Earth’s elephants from hunters and poachers and help stave off extinction. The decision did work: ivory prices plummeted, initially, and markets around the world closed down.

However, that was just the initial effect of the ban. A new study shows that the price of ivory increased tenfold since 1989, which is driving up incentive for poachers supplying illegal markets. Poaching is now responsible for an 8% drop in the world’s total elephant population every year, the team reports — and they hope this analysis can help us drive that number down.

Black ivory

“With poachers killing an estimated 100 elephants of the remaining 350,000 each day, we believe our findings are significant to global wildlife conservation policy-making,” says lead author Monique Sosnowski, who carried out the research at the Bristol Veterinary School as part of her MSc in Global Wildlife Health and Conservation.

The ban was introduced in 1975 for Asian elephants and 1989 for African elephants in response to unsustainable elephant poaching in the 1970s and 80s. The species were placed on Appendix I of the CITES, which forbids all international trade in a species and its products.

To better understand its effects, the team used data on ivory prices collected between 1989 and 2017 from literature searches and visits to ivory markets across Africa, Europe, and Asia, which they meshed with information such as ivory product type (raw, polished, carved), weight, region, and legality. This dataset allowed them to gauge the factors that lead to the rise in ivory prices.

Asian markets demand the highest prices for ivory on a global scale, while prices are the lowest in Africa. The global average price of ivory increased tenfold (~1,019%) between 1989 and 2014, but has been slowly decreasing since 2014. The main factors influencing the sale, purchasing, and price of ivory were the location of sale, whether the ivory had been carved or worked in any way, the legality of the sale (there are conditions under which ivory can be traded legally), and the total amount of ivory estimated to have been traded that year.

“Until now, very little has been known about global ivory prices since the international ban in 1989,” says Sosnowski. “We hope that a greater understanding of the factors that drive the price of ivory will lead to better informed policy interventions that lead to a more secure future for the long-term survival of elephants and other animals that suffer due to the ivory trade.”

The team hopes that their research will help policymakers better tweak global ivory policy. They explain that understanding regional price trends, the variables that drive them, and the associated demand can guide efforts on anti-trade campaigns, wildlife conservation, and education — all of them aimed at combating poaching. For example, focusing efforts to more heavily regulate trade in East Asia, where ivory demand and prices are highest, could decrease poaching and increase future security for elephants.

In the future, the team plans to incorporate their findings into larger economic models to guide more effective policy design concerning the CITES ivory ban, national trade regulations, and global ivory stockpile management. They also say that a similar study framework could be used for other endangered species experiencing poaching and illegal trade in their products, such as rhinos and tigers.

The paper “Global ivory market prices since the 1989 CITES ban” has been published in the journal Biological Conservation.

Archaeologists find 50,000 year-old tiara, made from wooly mammoth ivory

To make things even better — it wasn’t built by humans, but rather by an extinct species of hominins called Denisovans.

This is perhaps the oldest tiara in the world. Image credits: Novosibirsk Institute of Archeology and Ethnography.

 

In the 18th century, a Russian hermit named Denis lived in a remote cave in the Altai Mountains, near the border of Russia, China, and Mongolia. Little did Denis know that he would lend his name not only to the cave but also to a new subspecies of humans — for in the 1970s, archaeologists discovered evidence of ancient hominins inhabiting the cave, from 100,000 to about 30,000 years ago.

Not that much is known about the Denisovans, especially compared to modern humans or Neanderthals, but we do know that they interbred with humans and Neanderthals and had at least a comparable level of development to these groups. Now, a new archaeological dig has uncovered an extremely unusual artifact: a tiara.

The tiara was built from wooly mammoth ivory and judging by its size, it was probably designed for a man.

There is a hole in the rounded end of the tiara, where presumably, a cord was threaded to tie the tiara at the back of the head. This finding suggests that Denisovans produced and wore tiaras for thousands of years, says Alexander Fedorchenko, from Novosibirsk Institute of Archeology and Ethnography.

“Finding one of the most ancient tiaras is very rare not just for the Denisova cave, but for the world. Ancient people used mammoth ivory to make beads, bracelets and pendants, as well as needles and arrow heads”, said Fedorchenko. “The fragment we discovered is quite big, and judging by how thick the (strip) is, and by its large diameter, the headband was made for a big-headed man.”

Archaeologists note the exact position where the tiara was found. Image credits: Novosibirsk Institute of Archeology and Ethnography.

Scientists discovered the remarkable object during the summer, and it’s not the first ivory object found in the cave. Overall, some 30 pieces have been uncovered, including various types of beads, three rings, parts of bracelets and arrowheads. However, the tiara is an extremely rare find, and the technique required to produce it was quite complex.

“Mammoth ivory plates were first thoroughly soaked in water to become more ductile and not crack during processing, and then they were bent under a right angle,” Fedorchenko explains.

“Any bent object tends to return to their original shape over time. This is the so-called memory of the shape effect. We must remember this while trying to judge the size of the head of the tiara’s owner by its diameter.”

Even after all these years and wear and tear, the tiara still retains a distinct and raw beauty. It’s unclear exactly what its purpose was, though archaeologists speculate that it could have been used to keep the wearer’s hair out of the eyes or to denote status and act as a ‘noble’ passport.

DNA sequencing might help finally link smugglers to ivory shipments

New genetic sequencing efforts aim to give lawmakers the evidence they need to put ivory cartels down for good.

Tusk mammoth.

Image credits Roy Buri.

Although elephant ivory has been banned from international trade since 1989 (with few, disgraceful exceptions), African elephants continue to fall to poachers. Back in 2016, poaching was cited as the primary driver of elephant loss by the International Union for Conservation of Nature — a figure that totaled a chilling 111,000 elephants between 2005 and 2015. Current estimates place the number of African elephants in the wild at about 415,000.

This doesn’t sit well with an international team of researchers, led by members from the University of Washington (UW). By performing DNA analysis of large ivory seizures, the team links multiple shipments from a three-year period, when trafficking was at its peak, to dealers operating out of a handful of ports in Africa.

Tusky business

“Our prior work on DNA testing of illegal ivory shipments showed that the major elephant ‘poaching hotspots’ in Africa were relatively few in number,” said lead and corresponding author Samuel Wasser, director of the UW Center for Conservation Biology and a professor of biology.

“Now, we’ve shown that the number and location of the major networks smuggling these large shipments of ivory out of Africa are also relatively few.”

The team worked with samples of ivory trafficked between 2011 and 2014. After developing a rigorous sorting and DNA testing system, the team sequenced samples of tusks recovered from 38 different shipments. Through this approach, they could identify individual pairs of tusks, even if they were separated and shipped at different times to different areas of the globe.

Tusks from the same pair — although separated and shipped off on different boats — always originated from the same port, the team reports. They were almost always shipped within 10 months of one another, with high overlap in the geographic origins of tusks in the matching shipments, they add. They report that 11 of the 38 shipments the team analyzed contained tusks that had been separated after poaching but later shipped through the same ports (at different times) between 2011-2014.

It doesn’t sound like much on paper, but you have to consider that the illegal ivory trade is underpinned by large shipments. Roughly 70% of seizures between 1996 and 2011 involved at least half a metric ton (about 0.55 U.S. tons) of ivory, past research revealed.

Tusks.

Tusks from an ivory seizure in 2015 in Singapore after they had been sorted into pairs by the process developed by Wasser and his team.
Image credits Center for Conservation Biology / University of Washington.

Some of Wasser’s previous work involved developing a “genetic reference map” of African elephant populations, which they used to see which groups were most targeted by poachers. They built this map from DNA samples extracted mainly from elephant droppings (science is glamorous like that). Later, they cross-referenced this map with DNA from seized tusks, allowing the team to identify where each tusk was obtained with an accuracy of about 300 kilometers (roughly 186 miles). In a later paper, they announced that the bulk of seized tusks came from two “poaching hotspots” on the continent.

In order to sift through all this genetic data, Wasser’s team developed a protocol that could quickly subsample hundreds of tusks at a time, as they had “neither the time nor the money to collect samples and extract DNA from every tusk in a shipment,” he explains. They used this protocol for the current research, as well.

The team would identify pairs of tusks by measuring their diameters at the base, their color, and gum line (the place where an elephant’s lip rested on the tusk). This step let the team extract DNA from a single tusk in each pair, which should theoretically have slashed their work in half. The team, however, quickly noted that many tusks were ‘orphans’ — they were missing their partner tusk.

After comparing DNA samples from tusks among 38 large ivory consignments, confiscated from 2011 to 2014, they were able to match up 26 pairs of tusks from 11 shipments, even though they were only testing, on average, about one-third of the tusks in each seizure.

“There is so much information in an ivory seizure — so much more than what a traditional investigation can uncover,” said Wasser.

“Not only can we identify the geographic origins of the poached elephants and the number of populations represented in a seizure, but we can use the same genetic tools to link different seizures to the same underlying criminal network.”

Linking these large shipments to individual smuggling networks will help build the case against cartels that handle most of the ivory trade and shipment, Wasser explains. The team’s work could be used in court to link several counts of trafficking against the smugglers — who are usually only convicted for a single shipment.

“We reveal connections between what would otherwise be isolated ivory seizures — linking seizures not just to specific criminal networks operating in these ports, but to poaching and transport networks that funnel the tusks hundreds of miles to these cartels,” said Wasser.

“It is an investigative tool to help officials track these networks and collect evidence for criminal cases.”

The paper has been published in the journal Science Advances.

Walrus upper jaw bone.

Ivory trade made Greenland great, then barren again

The secret of Greenland’s quick rise to prominence, as well as its rapid decline, may have been walrus tusks.

Walrus head.

Image via Wikipedia.

Sometime in the late 10th century in Iceland, one Erik Thorvaldsson was having a pretty bad day.

Born in Norway, Erik and his family were forced to flee to Iceland after his father committed “some killings“. Erik was about 10 years old when this happened but, he realized today, he didn’t take the lesson to heart. Following in his father’s footsteps, Erik had also committed manslaughter — and was now forced into exile from Iceland.

This paternal murderous streak, however, would echo through time and help shape the destiny of Europe’s northern countries.

“Looks green to me!”

Erik sailed with his family and slaves, intent on finding his fortune on the wild shore to the southwest of Iceland. Icelandic Sagas hold that he christened the massive island Grœnland (‘Greenland’) and stayed there — thus creating the first Norse settlement on Greenland.

Nestled in the frigid waters between the North Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean, however, Greenland is decidedly un-green. Historians are still split on whether the lands were lusher back in the days of the Vikings, or whether Erik simply had a knack for PR campaigns and an interest in tempting new immigrants into sailing over.

What we do know is that it worked. People sailed in and by the mid-12th century, Greenland could boast two major towns, a population of several thousand, and even its own bishop. This rapid ascent was followed by a dizzying drop: by the 15th century, Greenland was virtually devoid of Norsemen, ruins of their settlements peeking out of snow across the land.

How these colonies developed and declined so fast has long fascinated historians. One theory proposed that a change in climate patterns, coupled with antiquated farming technology, made it impossible for the Greenland Norse to feed their population — so they left. One other holds that the Greenland Norse never really farmed much, but sustained their population by trading commodities with Europe. Walrus tusks were a particularly sought-after commodity in the time, and Erik’s frozen island was rich in walruses. When trade declined, the Norse also faded into history.

Walrus upper jaw bone.

A walrus rostrum (upper jaw bone) with tusks that was used in the study. Dated to c.1200-1400 CE based on the characteristics of a runic inscription in Old Norse.
Image courtesy of Musées du Mans.

This latter hypothesis is further supported by archeological findings in Europe. We’ve found many luxury items — from crucifixes to game pieces — fashioned out of walrus ivory in Europe around this time. However, the theory couldn’t be proved or disproved, as the source of this ivory couldn’t be pinpointed.

New research from the universities of Cambridge and Oslo, however, successfully established the source of this walrus ivory. By studying the DNA in walrus tusks and skulls from ivory workshops across the continent, the team found that Greenland held a “near monopoly” of the ivory supply in Western Europe for over two centuries. The research also revealed an evolutionary split in the walrus, allowing the team to distinguish between ivory sourced from Greenland and that obtained elsewhere.

Tusky business

The team worked with samples of walrus bone and tusk obtained from key medieval trading centers such as Trondheim, Bergen, Oslo, Dublin, London, Schleswig, and Sigtuna, dating between 900 and 1400 CE.

Ecclesiastical walrus ivory plaque.

Ecclesiastical walrus ivory plaque from the beginning of the medieval walrus ivory trade; believed to date from the 10th or 11th century. Found in North Elmham, Norfolk, UK.
Image credits Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology / University of Cambridge.

The tusks were exported still attached to the walrus’ skull. They helped protect the ivory during shipping and was later broken up at each workshop. The team extracted DNA from the remains of this process, as to avoid damaging any artifacts. Ivory was carved into luxury goods such as religious objects and game pieces.

DNA analysis revealed that the walrus branched into two lines during the last Ice Age — which researchers term “eastern” and “western”. The eastern lineage spread across much of the Arctic, while the western lineage remained contained in the waters between Canada and Greenland.

The lion’s share of walruses during the early years of the ivory trade came from the eastern lineage, the team reports. As demand soared from the 12th century onwards, however, the supply shifted almost entirely to tusks from the western lineage — namely, from walruses in Greenland. The Norse settlers there either hunted the animals themselves or traded with indigenous populations for the tusks, according to the team.

“The results suggest that by the 1100s Greenland had become the main supplier of walrus ivory to Western Europe — a near monopoly even,” says paper co-author Dr James H. Barrett. “The change in the ivory trade coincides with the flourishing of the Norse settlements on Greenland. The populations grew and elaborate churches were constructed.”

“Later Icelandic accounts suggest that in the 1120s, Greenlanders used walrus ivory to secure the right to their own bishopric from the king of Norway. Tusks were also used to pay tithes to the church,” he explains.

Europe was faring pretty well from the 11th to the 13th century, and demand for luxury and exotic goods soared. The Greenland Norse cashed in on this, supplying almost all of the ivory in Western Europe during this time. However, craftsmen eventually switched over to elephant ivory — there is virtually no evidence of walrus ivory imports in Europe past the year 1400, the team explains. Left without a market for their single most important export good, the Greenlanders’ economy ground to a halt.

“Changing tastes could have led to a decline in the walrus ivory market of the Middle Ages,” Barrett explains.

“An overreliance on a single commodity, the very thing which gave the society its initial resilience, may have also contained the seeds of its vulnerability.”

There may have been other factors at work, however. Walrus populations are known to abandon their coastal haulouts due to overhunting. The 14th century also saw the “Little Ice Age“, a sustained period of low temperatures. Finally, Europe was also going through some tough times, as the Black Death plagued the lands.

“Until now, there was no quantitative data to support the story about walrus ivory from Greenland,” says co-author Dr Bastiaan Star of the University of Oslo.

“Walruses could have been hunted in the north of Russia, and perhaps even in Arctic Norway at that time. Our research now proves beyond doubt that much of the ivory traded to Europe during the Middle Ages really did come from Greenland.”

The paper “Ancient DNA reveals the chronology of walrus ivory trade from Norse Greenland” has been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

Journalist Uses GPS Trackers and Fake Elephant Tusks to Reveal Smuggling Route

Every year, over 30,000 elephants are murdered, slaughtered for their tusks. Ivory is an extremely valuable commodity, and many people will stop at nothing to get it and sell it. With this in mind, investigative journalist Bryan Christy set out to see what the smuggling route is, so he commissioned a taxidermist to create two fake ivory tusks, which he embedded with GPS trackers.

Image via Doubtful News.

“These tusks … operate really like additional investigators, like members of our team, and almost like a robocop,” Christy said in an interview.

Between 2010 and 2012, over 100,000 elephants were killed in Africa, a study found. China is the biggest market for illegal ivory, and despite some efforts and new DNA tracking technology, things aren’t looking too good.

“China is the biggest consumer of illegal ivory. … Just a few years ago [China] purchased 60 tons of ivory from Africa, and it was that purchase that unleashed the notion that ivory is on the market again,” he says.

Image credits: Brent Stirton.

Christy and his team managed to track the smugglers as they transported the tusks north from Congo’s Garamba National Park to Sudan. Much of the ivory ends up in the Darfur area of Sudan before heading for China. His article about tracking the ivory of African elephants is the cover story of National Geographic Magazine’s September 2015 issue. The National Geographic Channel documentary Warlords of Ivory also reports on his efforts.

The brutality of the poachers is without limits. They’re killing animals in every manner conceivable: using AK-47s, poisoning waterholes, using poison spears, poison arrows; and it’s not just the elephants getting killed: in 2013 alone, over 1,000 park rangers were killed while attempting to defend African elephants from poachers.

But just as guilty are the people driving up the demand: they are the real problem, for without them, a market wouldn’t exist, and poachers would have no reason to poach. If you know someone who owns or would like to own ivory, do talk to them about this problem and let them know how it is actually obtained.

To keep the ivory from the black market, a plainclothes ranger hacks the tusks off a bull elephant killed illegally in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park. In the first half of this year six park rangers died protecting Kenya’s elephants; meanwhile, rangers killed 23 poachers. Photograph by Brent Stirton

Tracing Ivory DNA helps curb massive poaching that’s killing 1 in 10 elephants each year

We seem to be losing the war on elephant poachers, but a new toolset that involves tracing slaughter hotspots in Africa based on DNA taken from ivory might be exactly what law enforcement needed all these years. This way, researchers at University of Washington, in collaboration with INTERPOL, found that most of the ivory seized since 2006 originates in just two areas.

To keep the ivory from the black market, a plainclothes ranger hacks the tusks off a bull elephant killed illegally in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park. In the first half of this year six park rangers died protecting Kenya’s elephants; meanwhile, rangers killed 23 poachers. Photograph by Brent Stirton

To keep the ivory from the black market, a plainclothes ranger hacks the tusks off a bull elephant killed illegally in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park. In the first half of this year six park rangers died protecting Kenya’s elephants; meanwhile, rangers killed 23 poachers. Photograph by Brent Stirton

Since some  portions of genetic material are known to be held only by elephants in specific geographic areas, DNA can be effectively used to locate where samples come from. In this case, the researchers analyzed about a half-ton of ivory confiscated in Africa and Asia between 1996 and 2014  and found more than 85 percent of forest elephant ivory seized since 2006 could be traced back to an area that spans northeastern Gabon, northwestern Republic of Congo, southeastern Cameroon and the southwestern Central African Republic. About 85 percent of ivory that came from savannah elephants, the larger of the two African elephant subspecies, could be traced back to southeastern Tanzania and northern Mozambique.

Forest elephant seizures from 2006-2014 were largely assigned to the TRIDOM in NE Gabon, NW Congo-Brazzaville and SE Cameroon and neighboring Dzanga Sanga in SW CAR.

Forest elephant seizures from 2006-2014 were largely assigned to the TRIDOM in NE Gabon, NW Congo-Brazzaville and SE Cameroon and neighboring Dzanga Sanga in SW CAR.

Between 2010 and 2012, some 100,00 African elephants have been poached to source their precious ivory. Most it ends up on the Chinese black market, and as the country’s wealthy populace has soared in the past couple of years, so has the blood trade.  In 2013, estimates suggest some 50,000 elephants were killed. Considering there are only about 450,000 elephants left this means  one year’s killing spree at more than 11 percent of all African elephants left on earth. At this rate, in just a couple of decades there might not be any more wild elephants – not enough to make conservation efforts sustainable.

Savanna elephant seizures from 2006-2014 were largely assigned to SE Tanzania and adjacent northern Mozambique, but eventually shifted northward within Tanzania.

Savanna elephant seizures from 2006-2014 were largely assigned to SE Tanzania and adjacent northern Mozambique, but eventually shifted northward within Tanzania.

“When you’re losing a tenth of the population a year, you have to do something more urgent – nail down where the major killing is happening and stop it at the source,” Wasser said. “Hopefully our results will force the primary source countries to accept more responsibility for their part in this illegal trade, encourage the international community to work closely with these countries to contain the poaching, and these actions will choke the criminal networks that enable this transnational organized crime to operate.”

Armed with this valuable information, local and international law enforcement might want to concentrate their efforts in these key areas and improve security. What’s interesting is that this technique can be extended to other highly poached animals, like rhinos. It’s an uphill battle, though. Priced at $2,000 per kilo, ivory is a prized commodity and many poor locals are willing to take their chances and even risk losing their lives. The poachers are very organized and often act in cahoots with local authorities which they bribe or share spoils.

60% of large herbivores on the verge of extinction, bleak study finds

The 74 largest terrestrial herbivores are on the verge of extinction, a new worrying study has found. All in all, over half of all large terrestrial herbivores are on the verge of extinction – and we’re to blame.

The Sumatran rhinoceros is the smallest of the rhino species. Image via Wikipedia.

They don’t eat other animals, and they’re some of the most peaceful creatures out there – but they’re facing a gruesome fate, vanishing from the Earth at startling rates. Researchers from the Oregon State University conducted the study in different regions of Asia and Africa and were surprised at just how barren the landscapes are, without many of the herbivores we’ve been used to seeing.
Authors were clear about this, we’re dealing with “empty landscapes” in some ecosystems “across much of the planet Earth” and we’re the reason why this is happening.  Professor William Ripple said:
”I expected that habitat change would be the main factor causing the endangerment of large herbivores. But surprisingly, the results show that the two main factors in herbivore declines are hunting by humans and habitat change. They are twin threats.”
The problem is not only that we are wiping out some of the planet’s more iconic and loved animals, but we are creating huge beaches in ecosystems – without the activity of these herbivores, entire ecosystems may collapse. As scientists have known for a long time but much of the general public is still unaware, protecting herbivores is important not just in itself, but because of the invaluable environmental services they provide.

Giraffe at the Nairobi Park. Image via Wikipedia.

“The big carnivores, like the charismatic big cats or wolves, face horrendous problems from direct persecution, over-hunting and habitat loss,” David Macdonald, an Oxford scholar and co-author, told the BBC, “but our new study adds another nail to their coffin — the empty larder. … It’s no use having habitat if there’s nothing left to eat in it.”
Indeed, threatening herbivores threatens all the animals above them in the food chain.
“Growing human populations, unsustainable hunting, high densities of livestock, and habitat loss have devastating consequences for large, long-live, slow-breeding, and, therefore, vulnerable herbivore species,” Ripple added, expressing his hopes that policymakers will step in and prevent further damage. “We hope this report increases appreciation for the importance of large herbivores in these ecosystems,” Ripple added in the release. “And we hope that policymakers take action to conserve these species.”

Kenyan ranger stands by as authorities burn down 15 tonnes of ivory. Image via South African Times Live.

The problem isn’t only humans killing animals for meat – organized crime and the endless hunt for animal body parts, such as elephant tusks and rhinocerous horns has reached unprecedented heights. Between 2002 and 2011 alone, the number of forest elephants in central Africa declined by 62 percent. Some 100,000 African elephants were poached between 2010 and 2012. And the western black rhinoceros in Africa was declared extinct in 2011.
“This slaughter is driven by the high retail price of rhinoceros horn, which exceeds, per unit weight, that of gold, diamonds, or cocaine,” according to the study.
The article ends on a motivational note, urging for action now. After all, it may be the last chance we get.
“Now is the time to act boldly,” the article concluded. “Saving the remaining threatened large herbivores will require concerted action,” the study concluded. “The world’s wealthier populations will need to provide the resources essential for ensuring the preservation of our global natural heritage of large herbivores. A sense of justice and development is essential to ensure that local populations can benefit fairly from large herbivore protection and thereby have a vested interest in it.”
The research was published in the latest edition of Science Advances.

100,000 elephants killed in Africa between 2010 and 2012, study finds

Elephant numbers are dwindling, with over 100.000 elephants being killed in Africa between 2010 and 2012. Image via AP.

Most societies in Africa are leading an uphill battle in their attempt to ensure safety, good health and food security. But for African animals, it’s even worse. Poachers alone killed an estimated 100,000 elephants across Africa between 2010 and 2012, raising new concerns about the species’ survival.

Poaching in Africa is huge – the term ‘crisis’ has rarely been used more appropriately. The unprecedented spike in illegal wildlife trade, threatens to overturn what conservation efforts were slowly starting to achieve in the past decades. For example, although there is no scientific proof of its medical value, rhino horn is highly prized in traditional Asian medicine, and due to this, rhinos are now on the brink of extinction. Recent estimates show that if current trends continue, rhinos could go extinct by 2020. Let me phrase that in a different way, so you can get a better sense of the absurdity – one of the world’s most iconic species will likely go extinct in our lifetime, for a “medicinal” property which it doesn’t even have! The Western Black Rhino is was already driven to extinction, and soon, its relatives could follow.

WIldAid teamed up with Chinese basketball player Yao Ming for this campaign against ivory trade.

As you will probably guess, elephants are hunted for the ivory. Again, we’re dealing with one of the most iconic and well known species on the face of the Earth. A species known for its intelligence, kindness and ability to cooperate is being wiped out to be old as body parts, mostly on the Chinese black market. While the rhino horn has reached a mind blowing price of $30,000 per pound (almost $14,000 per kilo), ivory is estimated at $1,000 per pound (over $2,000 per kilo) – a huge price, especially when considering that no one actually needs an elephant’s tusk – except himself.

Warnings about massive elephant slaughters have been going on for years and years now, but until now, there has been no study to quantify the effects of massive poaching. Keep in mind, poaching in Africa is not one or a few guys with guns going out to kill elephants. Poaching has become so organized and well funded, that we’re talking about well organized criminal organizations and even militia. The study found that the proportion of illegally killed elephants has climbed from 25 percent of all elephant deaths a decade ago to roughly 65 percent of all elephant deaths today, a trend which if continued, will lead to the complete wipe of the species. All in all, they found that over 100.000 elephants have been killed between 2010 and 2012, and the number is continuously growing.

Two-month-old orphaned baby elephant Ajabu is given a dust-bath in the red earth after being fed milk from a bottle by a keeper, at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya. A new study released Monday Aug. 18, 2014, by lead author George Wittemye of Colorado State University, found that the proportion of illegally killed elephants has climbed to about 65 percent of all elephant deaths. Image via AP.

It’s estimated that there are as many as 700,000 elephants in Africa, but this is the total of two different species: the African bush elephant and the smaller African forest elephant. However losing either, but especially both, would be a major loss to the ecosystems and tourist economies throughout Africa. Unfortunately, the numbers for the Asian elephant are much smaller.

“The current demand for ivory is unsustainable. That is our overarching conclusion. It must come down. Otherwise the elephants will continue to decrease,” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants.

Early this year, nearly 450 elephants were slaughtered in Cameroon’s Bouba N’Djida National Park, representing close to 10% of the country’s remaining elephant population, but that’s nothing! Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve dropped from 40,000 to 13,000 over the last three years. Botswana seems to be the only place where elephant populations have maintained stable or increased, but that’s only because poachers haven’t yet started their activities there – which they almost definitely will in the near future.

As mentioned earlier, China is the main demand market for the ivory. Chinese Ambassador in Kenya Liu Xianfa is aware of this, and he claims efforts are being made to limit the damage.

“Wildlife crimes are a cross-border menace,” Liu said, according to a transcript of the ceremony published by Kenya’s Capital FM. “I assure you that more action will follow as will support to fulfil our promise. We firmly believe that, through joint efforts, the drive of combating wildlife crimes will achieve success.”

In this Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 file photo, a Maasai boy and his dog stand near the skeleton of an elephant killed by poachers outside of Arusha, Tanzania. Image via AP.

Even though elephant numbers are plummeting, researchers are still optimistic. They say that where conservation efforts have been thoroughly planned an implemented, the results are visible. Sadly, it’s almost certain that more and more elephants will be killed, but the species has good chances of survival lead author George Wittemye of Colorado State University believes:

“I have to be an optimist,” he said. “I’ve been through all of this before in the 70s and 80s. As a collective group we stopped that killing, and in the savannahs there was a reprieve of 20 years. I believe we can do it again.”

Elephants also survived a massive poaching crisis in the 1970s and 1980s, when Japan fueled the demand for ivory.  In 1989 the Convention of the International Trade of Flora and Fauna (CITES) abandoned attempts at regulation and passed a ban on international trade in ivory. Japan has since greatly reduce its ivory market, and initially, the law was a huge success, but legal ivory sales made way for illegal ivory sales… and here we are.

 

 

china-ivory

China destroys six tonnes of seized ivory as anti-poaching message

china-ivory

Photo: Vincent Yu/Associated Press

As China’s populace grew in affluence and trade restrictions with other countries became more permissive, the past couple of years have seen a dramatic surge in ivory making its way towards China – in consequence elephant poaching has grown to record heights, as expected. In a historical event, China for the first time destroyed part of its seized lot of ivory. Some six tonnes of ivory ornaments and tusks were obliterated in Dongguan, a city in the southern province of Guangdong, which is a major hub for the ivory trade.

[READ] China is killing Africa’s elephants

Environmental groups have herald the event has a strong anti-poaching message from behalf of the country which is home to the largest ivory market in the world, and have congratulated Chinese officials for this bold move. The highly publicized event was attended by state officials, foreign diplomats and wildlife campaigners, in hopes that nationwide awareness on the subject may be raised.

Some of the ivory crushed by the U.S. government in November 2013. USFWS / YouTube

Some of the ivory crushed by the U.S. government in November 2013.
USFWS / YouTube

China followed the United States’ example, which last November destroyed all the seized ivory in its possession – again some six tonnes. Figures are hard to come by, but the Wildlife Conservation Society said on Monday that the total amount of seized ivory still in the Chinese government’s possession amounts to some 45 tonnes.

“If China were to destroy the remainder of its ivory stocks and lead the world by committing not to buying ivory in the future,” said Cristián Samper, president and chief executive of the Wildlife Conservation Society “it would have a transformative, positive impact on the survival of African elephants.”

More than 30,000 elephants are killed for their tusks each year in the lucrative trade that sells at around $1000 per pound. The event in Dongguan should help hammer home the message a lot more clearly, wildlife activists now hope. There’s a lot more to it, and although the event is admirable in its intentions, the world is hopping there’s some actual measurable improvement following it.

China is killing Africa’s elephants

The number of elephant poaching in Africa has increased dramatically, as well as the Chinese demand for ivory, and according to most, this is not a coincidence at all. The growing demand for ivory in China, combined with the country’s growing influence on the dark continent work together and are leading to the tragic decline of elephants, which are being killed for their tusks.

In only the latest incindent, Thai custom agents have seized over two tons of ivory, hidden on a ship. The 247 tusks discovered officially on March 30 are estimated at about 3.3 $million, illustrating (even if just vaguely) the size of the poaching and smuggling taking place in Africa. The head of the Kenya wildlife authority blames China for slaughtering over 100 elephants in the last year alone, an accusation that should not be treated lightly; he also has some facts to back up these charges:

“Ninety percent of all the people who pass through our airports and are apprehended with illegal wildlife trophies are Chinese,” said Julius Kipng’etich, director of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).

Meanwhile, China is investing billions in Africa in all sort of deals, mostly trading highways and railways for the natural resources which pump its ever growing economy.

“China is the major driver for trade in ivory and that is linked to China’s phenomenal economic growth, the level of disposable income there, a re-embracing of traditional culture and status symbols in which ivory plays a role and the phenomenal increase of Chinese nationals on the African continent,” said Tom Milliken, regional director for east and southern Africa at TRAFFIC, a group which monitors the global wildlife trade.

Similar accusations have come from South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and more other countries, but a firm measure against these actions is yet to be taken.

Pictures via Global Post