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]

Video: 2 Weeks In Rwanda

“Rwanda, our beautiful and dear country / Adorned of hills, lakes and volcanoes / Motherland, would be always filled of happiness…”

These first three lines of the Rwandan national anthem are epitomized in this video created by Missouri based video production company Mammoth Media. This past summer, they were invited by the Rwandan tourist department to spend two weeks capturing video that would encapsulate the breathtaking nature of the country. Ultimately, the group aimed to collect footage to be shown in the country’s airports and welcome centers.

According to the video’s description on Vimeo, the tourist department ultimately decided, “to omit most of the footage showing people, poverty and real life.” The video you see above is a re-edited version to include that footage and it is beyond breathtaking. I had personally never thought about traveling to Rwanda before watching this video, if only from a lack of knowledge. But now I have an appetite to see those hills, the green savannah, the rare birds and those gorillas in the mist.

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]

Tanzania Planning To Sell 100 Tons Of Ivory

Elephants in TanzaniaTanzania has formally applied to the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species requesting permission to sell off its massive stockpile of ivory. The East African country has more than 100 tons of ivory in storage and wants to conduct a one-time sale to China and Japan. Proceeds from the sale would help fund elephant conservation efforts throughout the country, but the plan has drawn sharp criticism from conservationists.

The sale of ivory is banned in most parts of the world but demand has been on the rise across parts of Asia over the past few years. That has led to a thriving black market, which is supplied by the illegal poaching of elephants throughout Africa. In the past decade, poachers have slaughtered thousands of elephants to harvest their tusks. As a result, the creatures are now endangered across much of the continent.

Tanzania’s stockpile is the result of tusks being collected following the natural deaths of elephants throughout the country, but conservationists say they still shouldn’t sell off all of that ivory. Critics of the plan fear that flooding the market with 100 tons of ivory would only serve to confuse consumers, many of who aren’t even aware that it is illegal to purchase in the first place. They say it sends the wrong message at a time when they are trying to educate people about poaching and the illegal ivory trade. Instead they recommend that Tanzania destroy its hoard of ivory, something that the country Gabon did earlier this year.

As if the sale of ivory wasn’t enough to draw the ire of conservationists, Tanzania has also said that it would like to remove elephants from the list of the most endangered species. That move would effectively reduce the level of protection given to the animals and allow for commercial big game hunting and even the trade of hides and live animals.

For a cash strapped country like Tanzania, the sale of this ivory would bring in millions of dollars in revenue. But if it further fuels the ivory trade and could potentially increases poaching, the price of the sale could ultimately be much higher than anyone wants to pay.