Myanmar elephant deaths rise

From The Guardian:

“Reported cases of killed elephants in Myanmar have increased dramatically since 2010, with a total of 112 wild elephant deaths, most of them in the past few years. In 2015 alone, 36 wild elephants were killed, according to official figures from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The figures for 2016 are feared to be even worse.”

Myanmar, a poor country with plenty of government crises, has not devoted time and money to invest consistently in conservation.  Although they did stop logging operations in 2014, they have been unsuccessful in protecting wildlife such as elephants from poachers.

With China banning the ivory trade, Myanmar has become a popular spot for Chinese to go to buy ivory and other elephant products such as the teeth, skin, and the penis.  Most of these parts are used for “medicinal” purposes, although there is no solid scientific evidence rhino, elephant, or tiger parts really help treat illnesses.  Any relief the patient feels after ingesting or rubbing such ointments onto the skin is likely only an expensive placebo effect that harms the environment.

Myanmar unfortunately has become a country where African elephant parts go to the market too.  Groups such as TRAFFIC are trying to strengthen Myanmar border patrols to stop illegal wildlife trading.


Photo: taken at Elephant Nature Park






Synthetic ivory

Oxford biologist Fritz Vollrath is working on creating a synthetic ivory.  Similar to mother-of-pearl, the goal would be to look, feel, and act like the natural substance yet be manmade.

It is a lengthy process of trial and error.

From Smithsonian Magazine:

Under the microscope, ivory reveals its molecular structure: a three-dimensional collagen scaffolding filled with hydroxyl apatite minerals and water. Vollrath aimed to understand this distinct makeup well enough to improve upon the plastic-based substitutes that currently exist with a truly “biologically inspired” replica. “We’re still struggling to understand why it’s such a tough material,” Vollrath said. “It combines two kinds of material, mineral and collagen. Neither of them are great materials by themselves, but if you mix them up … it becomes something different.”

If successful, the project will still take years to become acccessible to the general public.  Then, of course, comes the question: will synthetic ivory help or hurt elephants?  The hope is that synthetic ivory would drive down the price of real ivory and poachers would no longer find their work profitable and get out of the business. But, there is concern that synthetic ivory would simply make it easier for real ivory to hide and be sold in the marketplace, thus maintaining or driving up demand for elephant tusks.

In any case, Vollrath hopes his research gives us insight into what makes elephant tusks so strong and so unusual in the natural world.



Photo taken at my local zoo



Ivory’s Ghosts: The White Gold of History and the Fate of Elephants

My quick review of the book “Ivory’s Ghosts: The White Gold of History and the Fate of Elephants” by John Frederick Walker:

It’s an in-depth look at ivory from Ancient Egypt up to modern times. He explains his point of view well (i.e. pro-culling and having a regulated ivory trade) but dismisses the other point of view (ivory ban) far too readily.  As we know elephants are fast on the path towards extinction; this book seems out of touch with the direness of the situation.

I give it three out of five stars. I think this book is worth reading for the historical background on the ivory trade.  I found the ivory trade’s close ties to human enslavement particularly sad and eye-opening.


(Photo taken in Thailand)

Ivory Demand Drops in China

IMG_5693Photo: taken at my zoo

Great news from the Save the Elephants foundation: ivory demand is dropping, especially in China.   In fact, demand has steadily fallen in China the past three years.  In 2014, ivory wholesale prices were just above $2000/kg.  As of February 2017, that price had dropped considerably to $730/kg.  At the time of the publication of the report, there were still 34 licensed factories that carved ivory in China, but all were ordered by the government to close this year.  China remains the top user of ivory, but this downward trend is highly encouraging.

From the New York Times:

Tougher economic times, a sustained advocacy campaign and China’s apparent commitment to shutting down its domestic ivory trade this year were the drivers of the change, elephant experts said.


A story from the BBC about a special South American seed called tagua, called the vegetable ivory:

They are the off-white coloured seeds of six species of palm trees. They can reach up to 9cm (3.5 inches) in length and when dried become very hard indeed. So hard in fact that they are also known as “vegetable ivory”.
And like ivory, tagua can be polished and carved, and turned into ornate carvings or jewellery.

Tagua has gotten more popular as people look for alternatives to ivory.  A French jeweler, Nodova, sold $300,000 euros worth of tagua jewelry last year alone.  Tagua costs about $30 per kg.

Sadly, elephant ivory is seen as more desirable by the ultra wealthy as it is a very limited resource.  It still carries prestige rather than shame in certain circles.


Photo: tagua in a locket, Flickr by Meryl, Wikipedia


Injured elephant comforted

IMG_3696An elephant was found in grave condition in Kottukachchiya, Sri Lanka with a deep nail wound to his leg.  Locals believe the elephant was a target of poachers.  The locals brought the injured elephant food and water, and cleaned his wound.  Doctors are unsure if he will live, but he certainly has a much better chance due to the quick action of villagers.

As doctors worked on removing the nail, locals even built a makeshift roof to protect the elephant from the hot sun.

Sri Lanka was the first South Asian country to take concrete steps against poaching, including burning ivory stocks. Another urgent issue in the country, and throughout Asia, is the loss of habitat for elephants.  The government is taking more steps to address the problem, and now 15% of the island is protected land.  Still, much work remains to be done.

(Picture: a picture I took in Thailand)