Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Last Night's Presentation: Saving The Elephants

Eddie (and I) are members of the Wildlife Conservation Society - which runs a lot of programs in the field and operates the New York Zoos.
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Last night I went to a talk at the Princeton Club on the new challenges facing the Elephant.  It was surprising.  In 1998 all Ivory trade was outlawed.  And this allowed for a very large rebound in the numbers of the African Elephant, both Savanna (the kind you see in South Africa or the Serengeti)  as well as the Rain Forest Elephants of Central African.
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But since about 2006 numbers have crashed as poaching has gone up astronomically.  It turns out this poaching is different for a couple of reasons.  First, Ivory Trade is already illegal - so outlawing it won't make a dent. Second, there is a lot of development in Africa now, particularly with regards to raw materials.  So roads, container ports and other infrastructure have increased markedly.  These all making trafficking poached animals easier and smuggling easier.  Third, there is a huge growth in the middle class with money in China. This society traditional values Ivory so prices have climbed.  With new prices comes organized crime.  Estimates now say illegal Ivory trade is organized crime's second biggest money maker now, after drugs (but before prostitution).
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More smuggled Ivory was confiscated in 2011 than any year since 1998, when trade was outlawed.  The Ivory confiscated probably came from about 2,500 Elephants.  But that was only the quantity intercepted!  Since 2006 almost 60,000 Elephants have been killed for Ivory (or other body parts for herbal medicine - like toenails).
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Forest elephants are particularly susceptible, because; 1) the are hard to see and manage, 2) they are less of a value as a tourist attraction (so governments have less incentive to manage them) and 3) it is harder to spot poachers.
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The speakers were amazing in detail and experience (each one had over 20 years in the field).  It was a cool talk. Also surprising, the US is a big purchaser of smuggled Ivory.  One of the speakers said you could go down to Canal Street and buy illegal Ivory anytime.
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So, don't buy Ivory.

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