The 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.
Two American explorers are heading to Africa today to begin an important expedition that could prove vital to the fight against the illegal ivory trade. Their five week long journey, dubbed the Elephant Ivory Project, may help to save herds of those creatures, which have come increasingly under attack from poachers in recent years.
Former National Geographic Adventurer of the Year Trip Jennings and partner Andy Maser are on their way to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where they’ll spend the next few weeks backpacking through the bush on the trail of elephants there. The duo hope to collect samples of elephant scat from five distinct herds which will then be used to build a “DNA map” of the various pachyderms of the region. Armed with the DNA data that they collect, they further hope to be able to trace the routes of the ivory trade and cut them off before irreparable damage is done to the DRC’s elephant herds.
Despite laws to the contrary, the demand for ivory is on the rise, particularly in Asia and the U.S. Because there is a great deal of money to be made in dealing in ivory, poachers will take great risks to sneak into protected areas in order to kill elephants and harvest their tusks. This practice has put the large creatures in jeopardy in a number of places in Africa, and the poor countries there often lack the resources necessary to stop these illegal practices.
Jennings and Maser hope to raise awareness of the situation through their efforts, and to that end they will be posting updates to their website throughout the expedition. You’ll also be able to track their progress through the use of their SPOT Satellite Messenger and upon their return, they plan on creating a documentary about their experiences as well.
On a personal note, I recently came back from a trip to South Africa, where the subject of poaching is a major issue as well. I spent some time in Kruger National Park, where poachers focus more on rhinos, but still go after the elephants too. South Africa has recently made the move to increase the sentences and penalties for anyone caught poaching, but it hasn’t seemed to have had much of an impact thus far.
These animals are one of the greatest natural resources that African countries have, and they often play an important role in the ecosystems there as well. The thought that they are slaughtered needlessly is a disturbing one, and hopefully we can find ways to put an end to those actions before they cease exist at all.