The illegal ivory trade is big business worldwide, and governments around the world are trying to stamp it out. Many nations around the world are coordinating their efforts to limit the damage being done to the surviving elephant populations by banning the trade of elephants’ tusks, prosecuting ivory smugglers and dealers, and confiscating and destroying captured ivory.
Every year, poachers kill an estimated 35,000 of the world’s remaining 500,000 living elephants, according to The Week. This grim business is carried out mainly to supply markets in East Asia, where smuggled ivory can fetch prices as high as $1,500 a pound. Considering that a fully grown bull elephant may sport up to 250 pounds of ivory tusks, the financial incentive to kill these animals is irresistible for criminal organizations such as Al-Shabab, which is the Somali wing of Al-Qaida, and the Lord’s Resistance Army, which is a Ugandan rebel group notorious for kidnapping and enslaving child soldiers.
African governments do what they can to stem the poaching. Uganda, the only country in Africa to see its population of elephants increase since the 1970s, is one of the most aggressive protectors of wildlife. In several areas in the small East African country set aside as protected habitat, anti-poaching patrols are authorized to shoot armed poachers on sight. According to a story published by allAfrica, Uganda’s President Musaveni publicly threatened to do the shooting himself if the army was unable to carry out its mandate.
In addition to the political threat posed by funding extremists and warlords, ivory poaching can have serious negative consequences to legitimate economic activity in African countries. In Uganda, foreign tourism brings in over $1 billion every year. Dwindling elephant populations negatively impact the tourist trade, which raises alarm in an impoverished nation with few other resources.
On the other end of the world, net ivory importers such as Thailand and China are also taking drastic measures to contain the trade in elephant tusks. Because they are the most common destinations of smuggled ivory, tremendous international pressure motivates these east Asian countries to do something about their part in the trade. Nipol Chotiban, who serves as the head of Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, was quoted by CBC News as citing the “international community” when discussing an August 2015 crackdown that confiscated and destroyed over 200 tons of illegal ivory.
The pressure from diplomatic initiatives, conservation groups and overseas investors has even motivated economic giant China to get serious about the black market trade in ivory. According to an article in the Huffington Post, the Chinese government pledged in May 2015 to phase out even the legal trade of ivory, which has a long history in Chinese culture. To mark the announcement, officials held a dramatic event in which 1,500 pounds of raw ivory, and finished ivory goods, were assembled and publicly destroyed. At black market rates, the ivory was worth over $2 million, and the destruction of these contraband goods drives home the point that China is serious about controlling the trade.
Ivory has been used for objects of fine art, from statuettes to piano keys, for thousands of years. Unfortunately, the most readily available source of raw ivory is dead elephants, and the world is quickly losing the remaining animals to poachers. Governments around the world are fighting this problem by cracking down on all aspects of the ivory black market. The story of how the world has come together to answer this threat to elephants is an inspiring tale of cooperation. To learn more about international conservation efforts and how you can help, support the Rainforest Site in its efforts to protect elephants worldwide.Whizzco