Ivory poaching on the rise thanks to Asian demand and a legal loophole

poaching, ivoryThe poaching of elephant tusks is a growing problem due to increased demand from Asian nations, the Kenyan newspaper Business Daily reports.

A loophole in the UN law regulating the ivory trade allows Japan and China to legally purchase some ivory from selected nations under tightly controlled contracts. This has encouraged poachers to smuggle their illegal goods to Asia. Once there, it’s much easier to unload them.

African nations are split on a global ivory ban, with Kenya supporting a ban and Tanzania wanting the trade to be legal. This basically comes down to whether nations want short-term profits by killing their wildlife and hacking their tusks off, or long-term profits from safaris and tourism.

Radio Netherlands reports that 2011 was a record year for ivory seizures, showing that at least some nations are taking the problem seriously. It also suggests, of course, that the trade is on the rise.

Authorities around the world made at least 13 large-scale seizures last year, bagging more than 23 tonnes of ivory. TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, says that represents about 2,500 elephants. The figure is more than twice that of 2010.

Photo courtesy Library of Congress. It dates to sometime between 1880 and 1923, showing poaching isn’t a new problem.

Developing nations see huge gains in tourism revenue

Developing nations are seeing huge benefits from tourismAccording to data collected by the United Nations World Tourism Organizations (UNWTO), developing countries have seen significant gains in both the number of tourists visiting those nations and the amount of revenue generated from visitors over the past decade. In many of those countries, tourism ranks in the top three categories for economic development, demonstrating that travel can play a vital role in helping developing economies mature.

These findings were revealed at a recent United Nations conference on developing economies, with the study revealing that the 48 least developed countries saw the number of travelers rise from 6 million visitors in 2000 to over 17 million in 2010. Perhaps even more encouraging however, is that the revenue generated from those visitors rose from $3 billion to $10 billion.

The UNWTO is hoping that these findings will give developing nations the incentive they need to build a sustainable tourism industry. Tourism is already proving that it can be a driving force in creating new jobs and building a more dynamic economy. Discussions at the special conference centered around just that, with a focus on creating good governance and sustainability practices in tourism; promoting investment in a tourism based economy; nurturing poverty reduction through tourism; and developing methods for training a sustainable work force. Attendees at the conference also discussed ways of protecting their considerable natural and cultural assets as the numbers of visitors rise as well.

It is interesting that despite the harsh global economic climate over the past few years, emerging economies across the planet have continued to see a significant increase in the number of visitors and revenue generated from them. This bodes well for countries looking to improve their economy, and tourism is now seen as a very viable way of climbing out of poverty.

That is definitely something I can put my travel dollars behind.

Rwanda pledges to save the environment

Rwanda has vowed to protect its environment The United Nations has declared 2011 as the “Year of the Forests” as it continues to work to encourage nations across the globe to take sustainable actions to protect the planet’s woodlands. One of the first countries to answer the call to action is Rwanda, which has laid out an ambitious plan to protect its jungles, even as it struggles to develop economically.

As most people know, Rwanda was devastated by civil war and genocide during the 1990’s. That struggle extended throughout the country and caused untold damage to its natural resources, including the rainforests that are home to a host of amazing creatures – not the least of which are the endangered mountain gorillas. Since that time, Rwanda has been experiencing plenty of growth and prosperity however, with the economy making strides forward in recent years and the population expanding at a rapid pace. Those conditions have put demands on the country’s natural resources, including the jungles. One report says that the Gishwati rainforest, for example, has shrunk in size by as much as 90% since 1960.

Earlier this week the Rwandan government vowed to change that pattern. Minister of Land and Environment Stanislas Kamanzi has pledged that “By the year 2035, Rwanda will have achieved a country-wide reversal of the current degradation of soil, land, water and forest resources.” A bold statement indeed for a country that faces many challenges to its continued growth.

The pledge was met with applause by environmentalists across the planet, who say that the commitment to protecting the environment is the first of its kind from a developing country. The plan is to not only re-plant and replenish forests, but to also build an infrastructure to improve water, work on soil conservation and build more sustainable agriculture as well.

One area that may aid Rwanda in their efforts is tourism. The country is already seen as a model for how ecotourism can be put to great use, as it is viewed as one reason why the population of mountain gorillas is increasing. Visitors to their protected habitat are willing to pay a hefty sum to spend a few hours with the creatures, and that money goes directly to preserving the forests that they call home. That same approach may be extended to protecting other regions and species in the country as well.

Rwanda’s landmark pledge to protect the environment is a good thing and hopefully they’ll be able to put it into action. In the long run, it will be an important piece to the country’s continued development and its ability to support its population. As an eco-conscious traveler, that’s just the kind of place that I want to support with my dollars.

[Photo credit: d_proffer via WikiMedia Commons]


Bolivia campaigns to legalize coca



Four Loko, meet Coca Colla. CNN reports that Bolivia has launched a campaign to legalize coca, a native plant that has been used for medicinal purposes and as a mild stimulant by the indigenous peoples of the Andes for thousands of years. And yes, coca does contain trace amounts of cocaine. The leaves are used in purified forms of the narcotic, which is what led the United Nations to ban coca in the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotics Drugs. The Bolivian government would like the ban amended to make coca a controlled, but not illegal, substance.

Coca leaf is considered saced amongst Andean peoples, and historically has been used to combat everything from altitude sickness to rheumatism (it has anaesthetic properties). The leaves are also used as a digestive aid, and to suppress hunger, thirst, and fatigue. Coca is traditionally chewed or used or as a tea, but now, coca-infused energy drinks are taking the market by storm. Las year, Coca Colla was introduced; it was such a hit that a new beverage, Coca Brynco, debuted this week.

Bolivian president Evo Morales–a former union leader for coca growers–is on a mission to convince the rest of the world of coca’s legitimate non-addictive uses. Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca has embarked this week on a tour of Europe, hoping to convince EU leaders to support the campaign. The U.S. is not onboard the coca train, and filed a formal objection to legalize it on Wednesday. January 31st is the deadline for all UN members to cast their votes.Bolivia is the third largest coca producer in the world, after Colombia and Peru. If legalized, it could provide a signficant economic, uh, stimulus to the country. In addition to energy drinks, Bolivia hopes to use coca in toothpaste, and even flour (I don’t understand that one, either).

I’ve chewed coca while trekking in the Peruvian Andes, and it definitely helps ease altitude-related symptoms. Quechua porters on the Inca Trail (who are employed to haul all of the gear) chew coca incessantly. I have no doubt that, in addition to genetic adaptability, coca aids their miraculous ability to carry loads nearly equal to their body weight, at high speed, even when barefoot. It’s said that coca is what enabled the Incas to build Macchu Picchu.

There are certainly pros and cons to lifting the coca ban, but hopefully world leaders can overlook the stigma long enough to evaluate the medicinal value of the plant.

American-Muslim group urges Palestinians to visit Holocaust Museum

Holocaust, holocaust
The Islamic Society of North America is defying Hamas and urging Palestinian youths to visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., the Jewish news service JTA reports.

A group of A-students from the Gaza Strip are to visit the nation’s capital on a UN-sponsored educational visit. Their tour is to include the Holocaust Museum, but Hamas, which runs the Palestinian Authority, has criticized the plan. A Hamas spokesman says Palestinian children suffer enough persecution and can’t deal with learning about other people’s suffering.

That prompted the Islamic Society of North America to make a public statement endorsing the plan, saying they’ve taken Muslims there before and that it has had a positive effect on Muslim-Jewish relations.

I’ve never seen this museum, but I have been to the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. Although I went nearly twenty years ago, I have a very clear memory of speaking to a German student who I met there. Her reason for going? “I feel it’s my responsibility as a German.” She became a friend, and although she often criticizes Israel’s policies, she’s fully aware of what happened in the biggest crime of the twentieth century.

Who knows? Perhaps this will encourage Jewish-American children to visit Palestinian high schools, or Iranian and American kids to set up an exchange program, or North and South Korea to create a communal youth group.

Hmmm. . .is that too much to hope for this holiday season?

[Image courtesy user AgnosticPreachersKid via Wikimedia Commons]