Illegal Ivory Trade Continues, Elephant Population Pays Devastating Price
by Masha Vodyanyk, age 17
Elephant tusks are composed of ivory, a white, bone-like material. Currently, up to 35,000 of the estimated 500,000 living African elephants are slaughtered every year for their ivory tusks. Tusks from a single male elephant weigh more than 250 pounds. On the black market, one pound of ivory is valued as high as $1,500.
Valuable across Asia and especially in China, ivory is used for hair ornaments, jewelry, chopsticks, and traditional figurines. Perhaps surprisingly, recent surveys show that many Chinese consumers are unaware that elephants must be killed for their tusks; some customers even assume that tusks grow back like fingernails.
Because the ivory industry is illegal, it is run primarily by terrorist organizations like Al Shabab, a branch of Al Qaida. The money these terrorist groups raise from poaching ivory is used to fund their illegal activities. According to Peter Seligmann, CEO of Conservation International, “poaching has become one of the most profitable criminal activities there is.” The Chinese mafia, for example, purchase and distribute ivory and sell it mainly to Asian and American markets.
In 1989, the international community aimed to prevent the killing of elephants by passing a global law banning the ivory trade. A decade later, the elephant population has rebounded to such a degree that the Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species (CITES) allowed two one-time sales, in 1999 and 2008, of stockpiled, pre-ban ivory to Japanese and Chinese markets.
Since these legalized sales, however, many illegal Chinese carving factories and retail outlets have reopened and continue to smuggle ivory. Because there is no way to distinguish between post and pre-ban ivory, illegal trading has significantly increased. Consumers in the U.S. and China often assume that the ivory they purchase was collected legally. Currently, ivory poaching is happening at a higher rate than before the global ban.
Due to pressure from Asian countries, CITES refuses to ban the ivory trade completely. While the U.S. has the second biggest ivory market following China, the U.S. government has taken measures within the last year to decrease ivory smuggling. In the fall of 2013, U.S. officials smashed over six tons of ivory that had been seized from smugglers and unaware tourists. In February of 2014, President Obama announced a regulation change that will ban interstate sales of ivory and end commercial imports of ivory antiques.
China followed suit and destroyed six tons of ivory in January of 2014. Additionally, Hong Kong authorities say they will destroy their 30-ton stockpile of ivory, one of the largest ivory supplies in the world.
Reports suggest that a crucial aspect of ending the illegal ivory trade is spreading awareness about the damage this market inflicts on the elephant population. Chinese environmentalists educate the public about the consequences of buying and selling ivory. Environmental Investigation Agency executive director, Mary Rice, says there is only one real solution–permanently shut down all international and domestic ivory trade.
[Source: The Week]