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]

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.

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.