African elephants have been surviving for over 10 million years- and today they may not survive the next decade or two; why? Because poaching of elephants is on the rise. 30,000 African elephants are poached every year for their tusks which is sold on the Ivory Market however this trade of Ivory is illegal.
The Ivory Trade
Elephant ivory has been used by humans since the earliest times. Evidence even exists of early man building simple dwellings from piles of mammoth tusks. Ivory carvings have comprised an important part of Asian art for over a thousand years and demand in the 19th and early part of the 20th century for mundane items as billiard balls and piano keys has led to the slaughter of literally hundreds of thousands of elephants.
Organisations such as Traffic reported a decline in demand for ivory as the international public’s awareness of the issue grows. However, there is still enormous demand in both China and Japan for ivory products – particularly netsuke and personal chops.
In 1989, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) banned the international trade in ivory. However, there are still some thriving but unregulated domestic ivory markets in a number of countries, which fuel an illegal international trade and increased poaching.
Why does this matter you might ask? Well Elephants are vital parts of the environment because they:
- Help maintain forest and savanna ecosystems for other species, and are integrally tied to rich biodiversity.
- Directly influence forest composition and density, and can alter the broader landscape. In tropical forests, elephants create clearings and gaps in the canopy that encourage tree regeneration. In the savannas, they reduce bush cover to create an environment favourable to a mix of browsing and grazing animals.
- Pass seeds through their digestive tract before the seeds can germinate. It is calculated that at least a third of tree species in central African forests rely on elephants in this way for distribution of seeds.
A poacher will shoot an elephant, to obtain its tusk- which has two thirds embedded in its skull in order to gain the ivory will have to cut it out of the elephant and leave it to die, high risk areas of poaching is in Central Africa (Congo, Mozambique and Tanzania etc.) Although local authorities try to crack down on the illegal action it seems to be going unnoticed- A cargo ship searched by authorities at the Kenyan port in 2015 set for Vietnam 1.7 tonnes of illegally poached ivory was discovered on the way to the Asian black market. And 70% of all ivory obtained makes it to Asia unnoticed, whole raw ivory tusks in one market, including one giant piece about 1.5m long for $10,000 (£6,000).
While there is an international ban on buying and selling ivory to other countries there seems to be exceptions to some antiques items but is this exception to the law causing poaching to continue?
“Ivory is not something to be desired and when removed from an elephant it is not beautiful.”
“Why are we still trading it? We need governments to send a clear signal that trading in ivory is abhorrent.” -Prince William at the Wildlife Conference in Vietnam
Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom recently stated that the UK will commit £13million to new measures to tackle the illegal wildlife trade, which is doubling its investment and also confirmed that the UK will call all world leaders together in 2018 for another conference to discuss measures and ensure international commitments to stop this illegal wildlife trade are delivered. Decisive action on the black market trade threatening the world’s most endangered wild animals was welcomed by the Environment Secretary at the meeting.
She also announced a UK-China arrangement to train African border forces to spot & tackle smugglers with illegal wildlife products, working with South East Asian authorities to increase security at airports and airlines to stop smugglers trafficking illegal goods.
“The UK is determined to do all we can to show global leadership in fighting the illegal wildlife trade and protecting the world’s precious wildlife… This builds on our plans to ban the sale of modern day ivory, an important first step at we press for a complete ban.”
Until there is a complete total ban on ivory trade, our elephants are critically in danger of extinction.