Thailand Announces End Of Ivory Trade

Thailand will ban ivory tradeIt’s no secret that the demand for ivory in Asia has led to the slaughter of countless elephants in Africa. Whole herds have been decimated over the past decade and many African countries have watched their elephant populations dwindle to historically low levels. But on Sunday, the fight against the illegal ivory trade got a much needed boost when the Prime Minister of Thailand announced that her country would take major steps to end the sale of ivory for the first time.

Speaking at the annual Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), Prime Minister Shinawatra said that her country’s goal was to fall in line with “international norms” in regard to the sale of ivory. That means banning the sale of any products made from the substance, which is currently freely sold throughout Thailand. Some of those products are made from the ivory harvested from domesticated elephants, but because demand is so high there, much of it comes into the country illegally from Africa.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, Thailand is second only to China in terms of the amount of illegal ivory trafficking. Because the sale of ivory is so common there, the country is often used as a destination to launder illegal ivory being funneled into Asia from Africa. If Prime Minister Shinawatra has her way, all ivory sales will be banned, making it much harder to smuggle elephant tusks into Asia. In the long run, this could help lower demand and lower the number of elephants that are being killed in the process.

Unfortunately, the Prime Minister didn’t share any details to her plan. At this point we don’t know how soon a ban could go into effect or how widespread it will be. Still, she seems committed to ending the sale of ivory in her country and protecting the remaining elephant herds both at home and abroad.

More Than 11,000 Elephants Poached In Gabon In Past Decade, Officials Estimate

elephantsThe West African nation of Gabon has one of the largest populations of elephants in the world, yet now they’re in danger of being wiped out for their ivory.

The World Wildlife Fund reports that a study done by itself in cooperation with the Gabonese National Parks Agency and the Wildlife Conservation Society found that up to 11,000 elephants were killed by poachers in Gabon since 2004. That may be up to 77 percent of the total population.

Most of the killings took place in and around Minkébé National Park, a vast and remote area that’s supposed to be a safe haven for wildlife.

The area is home to forest elephants, which are especially prized by poachers because their ivory is unusually hard and has a pink tinge to it, making it more profitable to sell on the international black market.

As we reported last month, the illegal ivory trade rose to its highest level ever in 2011. This is mainly due to a rising demand in Asia. While some African nations are investing in more law enforcement, corruption in both Africa and Asia is keeping the illegal trade in ivory alive.

Is it any wonder that another recent study found that elephants try to avoid humans?

The WWF is circulating a petition to stop ivory trade in Thailand. It says in part, “Thailand is also the biggest unregulated market for ivory in the world. Although it is against the law to sell ivory from African elephants in Thailand, ivory from domestic Thai elephants can be sold legally. As a result, massive quantities of illegal African ivory are being laundered through Thai shops.”

The petition already has more than 200,000 signatures, including mine. They’re trying to get to a million.

[Image of forest elephant in Ivindo National Park, Gabon, courtesy Peter H. Wrege]

Illegal Ivory Trade Surged To Highest Level Ever In 2011

The Illegal Ivory Trade grew to record levels in 2011A new report from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) indicates that the illegal ivory trade has risen to its highest point in two decades following a sharp upturn in seizure of large shipments of the elephant tusks in recent years. The same report says that 2011 was the worst year on record with a “major surge” in the illegal trafficking of ivory.

The full report will be presented at a CITES conference held in Bangkok in March, but the preliminary numbers are sobering to say the least. Through data collected by the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) maintained by TRAFFIC, it was determined that 2009-2011 were three of the four worst years for ivory seizures on record. Even more troublesome was that news that in 2011 there were 17 large-scale ivory seizures conducted worldwide, easily surpassing the eight that took place in 2009, the year with the next highest total. Those 2011 seizures are estimated to represent roughly 26.4 tons of ivory that was mostly harvested from elephants slaughtered in Africa.

The CITES report says that the illegal ivory trade was relatively stable and small from 1998 to 2008. After that, each successive year has seen a sharp rise in activity. It is believed that those increases coincide with organized crime units becoming more involved with the trade, following a rise in demand across Asia. Thailand and China are named as the two major consumers of ivory in the study.

Because demand has been on the rise in certain parts of the world, a number of African countries have seen their elephant populations decimated by poachers. It is estimated that tens of thousands of elephants are killed each year just to harvest their tusks for sale on the black market. Most of the ivory is then smuggled out to Malaysia, the Philippines and Viet Nam before being sent on to its eventual end location.

The statistics for the ivory trade in 2012 have not been compiled as of yet, but considering some of the events that took place last year, it seems unlikely that this upward trend was reversed.

[Photo Credit: Kraig Becker]

Google To Fund Unmanned Drones To Hunt Poachers In Africa

Google funded drones will soon patrol the skies over AfricaAs part of their new Global Impact Awards, Internet search giant Google has pledged $5 million to the World Wildlife Fund in an effort to help fight illegal poaching in Africa and Asia. The funds will be used to create a sophisticated data network for tracking the movement of animals and will employ unmanned surveillance drones to hunt poachers in the field.

In their announcement of the grant, Google estimated that the global illegal wildlife trade is worth $7-$10 billion annually. Much of that value is comprised of the sale of ivory tusks harvested from elephants and the horns of rhinos, two animals that could face extinction if poaching is allowed to continue unabated.

Being a technology company, Google of course hopes to use sophisticated equipment to help combat the poachers. In addition to using drones to survey the landscape, the company is helping the WWF to develop new animal tags that are both cheaper and more advanced than what they’ve used in the past. The new tags would not only be able to track the movement of the creatures but also collect more information on their behavior. They’ll even be able to text updates and alerts on the location of the animals directly to the mobile phones of park rangers.

But it is the drones that hold the greatest potential for helping to fight the war against poachers. These tiny aircraft will be remotely piloted and feature a host of onboard technology that could prove useful in stopping the illegal harvesting of animals. With high-definition cameras, infrared sensors and built-in microphones, the aircraft will provide opportunities to observe and react to events taking place on the ground much more quickly than in the past.

Exactly which kind of drone system the WWF will use hasn’t been announced and it is likely that they’ll go through an evaluation and testing process before they purchase the aircraft. These will be unarmed UAV’s, however, so don’t look for any missile strikes to take place against the poachers. But then again, considering the Obama administration recently announced that poaching is a threat to U.S. national security interests, who knows exactly who will be in control of the drones over Africa and Asia.

[Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force]

Is Illegal Poaching In Africa And Asia A Threat To US Security?

Illegal poaching is now seen as a potential threat to U.S. national securityThe U.S. intelligence community has been issued a new charge from President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Organizations such as the CIA and NSA are being asked to assess the impact that illegal poaching across Africa and Asia is having on U.S. security interests abroad. This shift in policy indicates that the administration may be preparing to get tough on the underground black market that has been built on the bones of thousands of slaughtered animals over the past few years.

While meeting with a group of conservationists, environmentalists and ambassadors at the State Department last week, Clinton called for a unified strategy across a host of regions to help combat the illegal trade of elephant ivory and rhino horns. Those two items in particular have sparked the recent rise in poaching in Africa as suppliers look to fill the rising demand in parts of Asia. In launching this new initiative, the Secretary of State pledged $100,000 to help get new enforcement efforts off the ground, but perhaps more importantly was her announcement that the U.S. intelligence community would lend their talents to the fight for the first time.

At first glance, using U.S. intelligent assets to fight illegal poaching doesn’t necessarily seem like a good use of resources. But much of the poaching is done by rebel forces and local bandits who then use the funds to purchase better weapons and more advanced equipment. Well-armed and funded militias can be a direct threat to the stability of allies throughout Africa and Asia, where a number of fledgling governments are struggling with so many other important social and economic issues. Additionally, because poachers move across borders with impunity and ship their precious cargoes around the globe, the U.S. intelligence community seems best suited to track their movements. Their efforts could lead to not only finding the poachers while they are in the field, but also tracking down buyers in Asia who are funding these hunts.This move comes at a time when poachers are becoming more armed and using more sophisticated tactics. It is not uncommon for the illegal hunters to employ the use of helicopters, night-vision goggles and sophisticated weaponry when stalking their prey, and when confronted by local authorities, they are generally packing bigger and better guns than their foes. That has made combating the poachers extremely difficult, as they are often in and out of a game preserve before anyone knows they are there, and when they are caught in the act, it frequently turns into a deadly firefight.

Secretary of State Clinton’s announcement also takes illegal poaching out of the realm of conservation and puts it squarely into the national security arena. That is a definite change in tone over what we’ve seen out of past administrations, which generally seemed more focused on bigger international issues. Obama may consider poaching a big enough issue to take on in his second term, particularly since he has deep family ties in Kenya, another nation hit hard by poaching.

The Washington Post says that an estimated 10,000 elephants are killed each year in Tanzania alone, which gives you an indication of just how bad this problem has become. In some parts of Africa, rhinos have already been hunted to extinction and if this wholesale slaughter continues, the elephant may not be far behind. I don’t care if the U.S. government did have to come up with an excuse about national security to get more involved, I’m just happy they are taking steps to crack down on this awful trade.

[Photo credit: Kraig Becker]