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.

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]

Central African Ivory Wars Ravage Elephant Population

The demand for ivory has resulted in the slaughter of elephants in AfricaAn ever-increasing demand for ivory on Asia’s black market is creating conflicts across Africa and having a devastating effect on the elephant population there. According to a somber and in depth report published by the New York Times on Monday, the high price of ivory has now made elephant tusks akin to blood diamonds, a natural resource to be plundered at all costs. As a result, elephants are now being killed by the tens of thousands on an annual basis with poaching at its most rampant in over thirty years.

According to the article, ivory is now sold on the illegal underground market for more than $1000 per pound. That kind of cash has lured in organized crime syndicates in China that work with rebel resistance groups throughout Africa who obtain the ivory by hunting down and slaughtering elephants in the wild. The tusks of the animal are then smuggled out of the country and shipped to Asia, where it is used in the creation of ornamental goods. Ivory has long been seen as a symbol of wealth and status in that part of the world and it has grown in demand with a rising middle-class, particularly in China.

It isn’t just outlaws and mob bosses that are caught up in the ivory trade, however. The armies of some African nations are also likely being used in poaching operations as well. The Times says that armies from Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan have all been implicated in the poaching of elephants. The article even implies that Ugandan soldiers have employed the use of military helicopters to hunt down and kill elephants inside the neighboring DRC. Those soldiers are blamed for the slaughter of a herd of 22 elephants that took place in April.And where is all of this ivory going? For the most part it ends up in China. It is estimated that 70% of the ivory finds its way into that country and last year more than 150 Chinese citizens were arrested in Africa on charges of smuggling ivory. Experts feel that if China cracked down on the demand for ivory amongst its growing middle-class, the systematic poaching of elephants would drop off dramatically.

For their part, most of the African nations try to protect their elephant herds as much as possible. Those herds are generally found inside national parks, which are of course protected lands. But those countries don’t have enough manpower, money or other resources to patrol those large sections of wilderness, thus poachers can come and go almost with impunity. When they are caught in the act, however, it often results in a bloody conflict between anti-poaching units and the outlaws, who are often very well armed.

Just how badly has the elephant population been hurt by the ivory trade? No one knows exactly for sure, but in the Congo’s Garamba National Park the creatures once numbered in excess of 20,000. Today it is believed that just 2400 still freely wander that region, which was also once home to the white rhino. Sadly, that species has already been hunted to extinction within the park as poachers harvested rhino horns, which are also in high demand across Asia.

Reading the New York Times piece is both shocking and sad. Having seen elephants in the wilds of Africa with my own eyes I found it impossible to not be struck by the intelligence and nobility of those animals. It is hard to believe that in the 21st century man’s greed could possibly see the last of these creatures roaming free.

Poachers kill 200 elephants in Cameroon already this year

Elephants are being killed at an alarming rate in CameroonGovernment officials in Cameroon have announced that poachers have already killed more than 200 elephants in 2012, which is a startling number considering we’re only about six weeks into the year. A growing demand for ivory in Asia is blamed for the massive rise in poaching, which is having devastating effects on the pachyderm population in central Africa.

On Friday, Gambo Haman, the governor of Cameroon’s North region, claimed that poachers from the Sudan and Chad are illegally crossing his country’s borders and hunting the elephants for their tusks. He said that the poachers are well-armed, regularly travel on horseback, and are receiving help from locals, who are often eager to see the elephants killed in order to protect their crops.

In January, the carcasses of 146 elephants were discovered in Cameroon, and so far this month, another 60 have been added to that total. It is feared that the number of animals that are actually being killed is much higher however, as not all of the bodies are discovered, particularly if they are being slain in remote regions of the country.

In response to this rise in these illegal activities, the Cameroon government has created a team of soldiers who are trained to rapidly respond to threats from poachers. That team is too small to effectively cover the entire country however, and they have often found themselves outgunned by the bandits they are pursuing. Haman said that a team of six soldiers from Chad were recently killed when they clashed with poachers in that country. The incident was a sober reminder of the dangers these soldiers face.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) have also commented on the recent rise in poaching in Cameroon. They described the situation as dire, saying that the current level of killings there is unprecedented in scale. In 2007, a census of the population of elephant herds in the country estimated that between 1000 and 5000 remained. If this level of poaching continues, there is a real possibility that there will soon be no elephants left in the entire region.