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Attempt to allow sale of elephant ivory fails

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African elephantThe illegal trade in elephant ivory is booming. African elephants are being slaughtered at rates exceeding the former peak in the late 1980s, before Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES (pronounced SITE-ees), banned all trade in elephant products. The ban—as well as a worldwide public outcry against the slaughter—helped to stabilize the wild population of elephants. But within the last decade, highly organized international criminal rings have begun killing elephants like never before. The latest figures indicate that 38,000 elephants a year are falling to the poachers’ guns.

Last year, Samuel Wasser and Cathy Laurie of the University of Washington along with Bill Clark of Interpol described in Scientific American their efforts to use DNA analysis to trace ivory seizures back to the wild populations of elephants from which they were taken. They found that some of the largest seizures in recent years all came from the same population of wild elephants in Tanzania.

Despite this finding, Tanzania had petitioned CITES, which is now meeting in Doha, Qatar, to allow a one-time sale of ivory. The proposal had been strongly opposed by scientists, who argued that allowing any ivory sales would help build a market for a product that can only come from dead elephants. Earlier today, in a rare victory for science-based conservation at this meeting, the organization’s members voted to reject the plan. Following its defeat, Zambia withdrew a similar proposal.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that elephants are in the clear. The park rangers who are tasked with protecting elephant populations need better equipment and more detailed intelligence about where poachers are operating. And as long as demand continues to grow in China and Japan—where most poached ivory ends up—incentives for organized crime will remain high.

Image: African elephant courtesy of TheLizardQueen on Flickr via Creative Commons license





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  1. 1. Soccerdad 2:23 pm 03/22/2010

    Typical government nonsense. Where there is demand, supply will be created. Why not allow the sale of the pile of accumulated ivory that already exists to increase the supply, thereby lowering the price and the pressure on the live elephants?

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  2. 2. doug l 2:35 pm 03/22/2010

    If the local people who live where the animals are being poached are not part of the solution, and by that I mean that they would need to see a benefit from the proper management of the resource whether all ivory or all hunting is legal or not, then it’s unlikely a working solution will be achieved.
    Top down regulation typically generates poor or even negative results, and so it seems that we’re seeing it for all its faults now.

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  3. 3. Wayne Williamson 7:27 pm 03/22/2010

    what a bunch of crap…they should read their sources before trying to quote them….the "strongly opposed scientist" did not state that "argued that allowing any ivory sales would help build a market for a product that can only come from dead elephants" they actually stated that "You do not have to kill elephants to get their ivory,"…harvest(read..cut them off) the tusks from the live ones before poachers can get them(my thoughts)….

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  4. 4. jerryd 2:35 pm 03/23/2010

    A solution could be staining/painting the ivory on the elephants directly or by feeding them food that would stain it.

    Soccerdad, why is the last time they did this increased elephant deaths by poaching 100% the next yr and 200% the yr after.

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  5. 5. stan3 9:04 pm 03/23/2010

    I agree that staining the ivory by feed to make it less desirable and valuable is probably the best proposal offered. jerryd has come up with a reasonable solution. The only problem is getting the elephants to eat this food and providing it in sufficient quantities.

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  6. 6. Sminassian 9:26 pm 03/5/2011

    Search on staining ivory led me to this! Great to know idea is out there! Black would be the best. Although most asian cultures think number 4 is very bad luck, having ivory stained black with white will also hopefully be seen as a bad omen – death (which it is of course already to the elephants!) I’m in IT so not sure what would do the trick and as mentioned the doses needed and importantly it should not be harmful in any way to any creature.. Bit of a challenge!

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