UK ivory trade ban

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

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Laos ivory market

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.

IMG_2085The 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.

Adapting behavior due to poachers

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.

 

 

 

 

Jared Leto’s World Wildlife appeal

I got an email from actor Jared Leto.  Not a personal email, although he used my name.  Rather, he is an ambassador for the World Wildlife Fund, and they are currently running a fundraising campaign to save Asian elephants in Myanmar.

Last week I posted about the current crisis in Myanmar, and how poachers are now selling elephant skin as “medicine”, even though there is no real scientific evidence that elephant skin has any benefit for human health.

Jared writes:

Elephant poaching rates since January have already surpassed the annual average for Myanmar—this is truly a crisis. Most of the poaching is happening in two areas: Bago Yoma and Ayeyarwady Delta, where poachers can gain easy access. At this rate, wild Asian elephants could vanish from these areas in just one or two years…

WWF has an emergency action plan to stop the poaching. With your support, WWF will train, equip and deploy 10 anti-poaching teams to the most vulnerable areas, and implement a thorough plan to stop the slaughter.

So far, the campaign has raised $80,000.  The goal is $230,000, so if you’re looking for a good cause for donatations, please consider this!

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.

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Photo: taken at Elephant Nature Park

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Elephant “revenge” on hunter

Big game safari hunter Theunis Botha, age 51, died this past week after being crushed by a female elephant.  From NPR:

Botha ran Theunis Botha Game Hounds Safaris specializing in leopard and lion safaris in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. He claims to have pioneered a European-style of hunting in the region using hounds to help flush out the prey. Botha would often travel to the United States to find wealthy customers to take part in the trips, according to the Telegraph.

He was with a hunting party and they came across a breeding herd of elephants – three elephants charged towards him, and a fourth came from the side and took him by surprise, lifting him with her trunk.  A fellow hunter shot the elephant and she too died, crushing Mr. Botha.

Sadly, Mr. Botha leaves behind a grieving family.  Yet, hunting big game is very dangerous and there is always high risk.  The fact that this was a breeding herd made the situation incredibly precarious for the humans.   Elephants, like most mammals, are prepared to fight to the death to protect their most vulnerable family members.

Supporters of big game hunts say the money goes into conservation, and also keeps populations in check.  But, the results show problems with this optimistic theory.  National Geographic looked at six countries that allow big game hunting (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Namibia, and Tanzania) and wrote the following:

But a closer look at trophy hunting in Africa shows that the industry employs few people and that the money from hunt fees that trickles down to needy villagers is minimal. Government corruption can be a factor. In Zimbabwe, for instance, individuals associated with President Robert Mugabe have seized lands in lucrative hunting areas. Trophy hunting isn’t stopping poaching, especially in countries that have a poor record of protecting their wildlife…

With more than one-sixth of the land in those six countries set aside for trophy hunting, and the fact that land-hungry politicians are seizing more and more land for themselves, impoverished rural communities often resort to poaching and the illegal wildlife trade to sustain themselves.

 

 

Rhino horn trade

Bad news from The Economist regarding rhino horns:

On March 30th South Africa’s constitutional court overturned the ban on domestic trade. Now, if they have the right permit, people can trade rhino horn, but not export it. TRAFFIC’s Mr Milliken worries that this will lead to the worst of all worlds. Allowing some legal trade while the authorities are not properly enforcing the ban on illegal trade will muddy already murky waters. Once out of the country, legal and illegal horn will be all but indistinguishable. So users in Vietnam will have cheaper supplies; the illegal dealers still in control of the export trade will pocket the profits; and rhinos will keep falling to the poachers’ bullets.

Despite scientific evidence to the contrary, rhino horn is still popular in Southeast Asia (particularly Vietnam) as a medicinal substance.  It is ground up and used to “cure” everything from the common cold to infertility to cancer.

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(Photo taken at my zoo)