We see big natural disasters in the news that wreck widespread havoc within minutes and hours: hurricanes, earthquakes, and fires. But, there are also huge natural disasters occurring that take time to do their terrible damage.
Periods of drought have been extending and intensifying all over the world this century. In countries such as Kenya, drought causes food production to fall significantly, plunging more families into poverty. Obviously, the lack of resources also adversely affects the elephant population. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust updated their supporters this week:
It has been an especially trying month this September with too many orphaned babies pouring through our doors, victims of the ongoing drought in large parts of the country, meaning that mothers cannot produce the milk required for their young babies and are even collapsing and dying from exhaustion themselves. It is heartbreaking to watch another factor contributing to the decline of this species when they already have so much to contend with; aside from poaching and clashes with communities they now have to face shortages of food. We work hard on the ground in Tsavo, home to Kenya’s largest population of elephants, contrasting and maintaining our wind-powered boreholes, to alleviate the pressure of water shortages but we know the main contributing factor this year is the scarcity of vegetation. Our DSWT funded Kenya Wildlife Service Mobile Veterinary teams have been kept very busy on the ground too, attending to multiple cases and assisting in rescues as well.
If you’ve read this blog or follow elephant-related news, you know one sticking point of banning ivory sales is what to do with antiquities on the market. The UK has allowed sales of antiquities if either they are carved prior to 1947 or if they have a government certificate dating them prior to 1990, which is the year the international ivory trade was banned.
The big problem, of course, is that it isn’t terribly difficult for a seller to forge a certificate or lie about the age of ivory, and the consumer would likely be unaware they were buying illegal goods. It is difficult even for experts to date ivory.
There has been a campaign to ban all ivory sales in the UK, and after years of hard work, it paid off. From The Guardian:
The UK government has bowed to campaigners and will ban the sale of ivory regardless of age, according to a new consultation.
The UK is the biggest exporter of legal ivory in the world and shutting down the trade will help prevent illegal ivory being laundered by criminals. More than 50 elephants are killed by poachers every day on average and the population of African elephants plunged by a third between 2007-14 alone, leading to warnings that the entire species could go extinct…
The government was put under pressure by a wide range of campaign groups and prominent individuals including the former Conservative leader William Hague, the primatologist Jane Goodall, Stephen Hawking and Ricky Gervais. Within the Tory party, the foreign secretary Boris Johnson and the former environment secretary Owen Paterson have pressed for a complete ban.
This news was a surprise to many, as the UK has always been very protective of its right to sell antique ivory, seeing ivory as important artifacts in its history as an empire. But, as the U.K. is scheduled to host a 2018 international conference on protecting wildlife, it was time to act.
Video: YouTube, IFAW
Sadly, as one ivory market gets strict, another gets lax. China has banned ivory sales but Laos is now happy to offer ivory to Chinese tourists looking for a way around the ban. According to a report by Save the Elephants, the ivory market in Laos has surged. Laos is an economically poor country, and people aren’t as concerned about an elephant’s welfare as their bottom line. I did a daytrip from Thailand to Laos and most of the markets sold counterfeit goods, so it doesn’t surprise me that markets are also now selling controversial ivory.
The demand for ivory must shrink for the supply to dry up – China has been effective at reducing their ivory market supply, but they must continue to try to change the culture, which unfortunately still prizes ivory as a sign of wealth, luck, and high social status.
From ABC news:
The report on Laos said ivory goods are sold openly there, including in the capital Vientiane, and that law enforcement is lax, despite the country’s pledge to curb wildlife trafficking. Researchers said the cheapest ivory item that they saw was a $3 ring, while a pair of polished tusks was the most expensive at $25,000. They also noted that wholesale prices of raw ivory in Laos dropped by more than half between 2013 and 2016, attributing the fall largely to the Chinese economic slowdown.
An article in Newsweek caught my eye this week:
Elephants in East Africa are adapting their behavior to survive the greatest threat to their existence: poachers.
A study published in the peer-reviewed Ecological Indicators journal this week suggests that elephants are aware of the danger of poaching gangs and have begun moving at night to avoid them.
The research, carried out by the Kenya-based charity Save the Elephants and the University of Twente in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service, used GPS tracking and mortality data collected in northern Kenya between 2002 and 2012.
It is interesting to note that elephants can see well in the dark, but moving at night still has plenty of danger. Lions, for example, are nocturnal and are happy to pick off baby elephants for a meal. Obviously, the elephants weighed their options and would rather risk lions than bullets and machetes.
The GPS tracking may save elephant lives. Anti-poaching ranger teams can now follow the elephants’ movement and protect them better against their worst enemy.
I think we all need some good news. Fortunately, the NRDC has published a list of good news for elephants as part of their year in review for World Elephant Day, which took place earlier this month.
They also published a list of concerns, which I will cover at a later time.
1. The poaching numbers of African elephants is still unacceptably high, but it has stabilized instead of increased, which is an important step in the right direction.
2. Law enforcement has improved, with better communication and less corruption. Powerful poaching lords are being arrested both in Africa and Asia.
3. Ivory crushes – the process of destroying ivory stocks – has proven to be an effective marketing tool to raise awareness about the elephants’ plight, and has reduced the problem of thieves selling ivory on the black market.
4. China has made enormous strides to reduce its consumption of ivory, with the government banning ivory markets.
5. The U.S. ivory bans now have data proving they have been effective in reducing demand, and thus have saved many elephants’ lives.
6. Activists at every level – from average citizens to celebrities and royalty to experts in the field have created a movement worldwide to save the elephant. CITES Secretary General Jon Scanlon stated: “The momentum generated over the past few years is continuing to translate into deeper and stronger efforts to fight these crimes on the front line, where it is needed most—from the rangers in the field, to police and customs at ports of entry and exit and across illicit markets.”
I think this is true…fifteen years ago, I would be hard pressed to find articles about saving elephants. Now, I can open People magazine at the supermarket and find a large story about it. Let’s keep the discussion going!
My local zoo gladly takes donations to help elephants and other animals. Obviously, monetary donations are accepted, but it is nice to donate items where you can see the animals actually use them.
The zoo elephants enjoy “foraging” for pasta, unsweetened cereals, oats, and unsalted pretzels. They also like spices and perfumes. And, if you have large cardboard tubes you want to recycle, they make enjoyable elephant playthings to manipulate and destroy.
Other animals also need supplies – for example, my zoo was thrilled to accept blankets for their primates.
So, if you are cleaning out your cupboards, house, or garage, ask your zoo if they need anything!
Today is World Elephant Day. Here is a picture from my recent visit to the zoo.
I got an email from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, updating me on my foster elephant (reminder: you can foster an elephant for $50). It also talked about World Elephant Day and offered an opportunity to send an elephant vocal message. Details are below:
“Saturday 12th August is World Elephant Day, an extra opportunity for all of us to celebrate elephants and draw global attention to the threats they face, as well as the work being done to help these most majestic of animals. To make it possible for elephants to be truly heard this World Elephant Day, the Trust has created Say Hello in Elephant, a web based campaign that allows you to translate messages into elephant calls and share them with friends and family. The translations are based on decades of research into elephant communication by ElephantVoices and we hope you will take a moment to visit: http://www.helloinelephant.com and translate a message to share with your friends. I find it exciting to think that we can bring the true sounds of elephants to people all over the world, a sound that could be lost, were it not for the support of caring people like you, who help us to protect them.”