Posts Tagged ‘Ivory’

Burning ivory only increases poaching

May 3, 2016

Some 105 tons of contraband ivory was burned by Kenyan authorities last week in their effort to curb illegal poaching. I find their logic flawed. All the ivory that was destroyed was what had been recovered from poachers or traders who had been caught. The ivory came from elephants already killed. But I don’t see how destroying this ivory will save a single elephant from being targeted by poachers.

BBCKenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has set fire to a huge stockpile of ivory in an effort to show his country’s commitment to saving Africa’s elephants.

More than 100 tonnes of ivory was stacked up in pyres in Nairobi National Park where it is expected to burn for several days. The ivory represents nearly the entire stock confiscated by Kenya, amounting to the tusks of about 6,700 elephants.

Some disagree with Kenya’s approach, saying it can encourage poaching.

ivory burning

Suppose even that some – say 10% – of this contraband ivory – if it hadn’t been destroyed – would have found its way back to the illegal market. To that extent the price of ivory would have been held down. Now the price will have increased in  response to the shortfall in supply. And any increase in the black market price will only increase the incentive for the poachers. That part of the ivory destroyed – which would have found its way to the black market – will now have to be replaced by additional poaching.

The ivory comes mainly from African elephants for markets in Asia. The producer countries are primarily Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and the consumption is in China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Elephant poaching is driven by the demand for ivory and the price the consumer is prepared to pay. Around 20,000 elephants are killed by poachers every year (from a population of about 500,000). That is driven by the demand for about 1,000 – 1,500 tons of raw ivory every year. Currently the price of raw ivory – I am told – is about $2,500 per kg (from around $1,500 for small tusks to over $3,000 for large tusks). In 2010 this was less than $1,000 per kg. Most of this price increase reflects an increase of demand and not a scarcity of supply. As long as this demand holds up (overwhelmingly from China), it is worthwhile for poachers and traders to risk being caught.

The only way poaching will stop is when it is not worthwhile for a poacher to ply his trade. Either because the risk of being caught is too high or because the return on the enterprise is too low. The price for illicit ivory has to crash if poaching is to be curtailed. The volume of the demand can only be addressed by education and that is a slow process. The other factor which could help would be if a reducing demand could be met by “legal” ivory. Around 30,000 – 40,000 elephants, I estimate, die of natural causes every year. Their tusks are usually destroyed. But they could form part – or even all – of a “legal” trade which serves to depress the price of raw ivory. Mammoth ivory recovered from the Siberian permafrost could also form a useful addition to the “legal supply”.

Preventing poaching and prosecuting traders is all very well, but ultimately the consumer demand has to be educated out. Raw ivory price has to be brought down to a level where poaching is just not worthwhile.

Kenya would have done better to flood the market with this ivory. It would have prevented or at least delayed the poaching of some 5,000+ elephants.


Ancestors to the rescue? Mammoth ivory could reduce elephant poaching.

September 28, 2010

Elephant poaching in Africa continues fuelled by the demand for ivory – even illegal ivory. Yesterday 90kg of illicit ivory was seized entering Thailand from Ethiopia.

African elephant

Twenty years after the international trade in ivory was banned the killing of elephants for their tusks is still widespread. From a population of about 5 million African elephants in 1950, numbers reduced to about 450,000 in 1989 due to loss of habitat and the ivory trade. Since the ban in 1990 numbers have increased but only by about 100,000 and significantly less than hoped for. In 2007 45 elephants were killed by poachers in Kenya alone and in 2009 this had increased to 271. Mass poaching still occurs all over Africa and last year elephants in Sierra Leone were wiped out at its only Wildlife Park. One ton of ivory from about 100 elephants was seized in Cameroon last year on its way to China.

The Woolly Mammoth at the Royal BC Museum, Vic...

Wikipedia: Woolly Mammoth

But modern day elephants may get help from an unlikely source. Their woolly mammoth ancestors who became extinct 4000 years ago are beginning to throw their dead weight around as they emerge from under the Siberian permafrost. Every spring and summer mammoth carcases are revealed in Siberia and it is estimated that there are more than 150 million carcases preserved and recoverable. They have been recovered for thousands of years whenever they have been found. But now with the use of aerial surveys and with the high demand for ivory, mammoth ivory is beginning to be recovered in large quantities and used instead of illegal ivory. It is promoted as “ethical” ivory and the prices are high enough for Russian entrepreneurs to expand their digging.

“Russia’s mammoth ivory industry expands: what effect on elephants?”

by Esmond Martin, Chryssee Martin, Pachyderm No. 47 January–June 2010

Abstract: The commerce in woolly mammoth tusks (Mammuthus primigenius) in Russia, the main source for this raw material, has been going on for thousands of years, but during the communist period (1917-1989) the trade declined sharply. Since the early 1990s the domestic and international trade in these tusks has greatly expanded due to the freeing up of the Russian economy, more foreign visitors to the country and greater demand due to the prohibition of international trade in elephant ivory in 1990. In recent years, 60 tonnes of mammoth tusks have been exported annually from Russia, mostly to Hong Kong for carving in mainland China. Additionally, there are local carving industries in several areas of Russia, but most of the objects emerging from these locales are sold within the country. Many thousands of recently-made mammoth ivory items are for sale in Asia, Europe and North America. People wishing to buy an elephant ivory object may purchase a similar one crafted from mammoth ivory that is legal and free of cumbersome paperwork. Mammoth ivory items are not for sale in Africa. If mammoth objects were to be offered in Africa, they could serve as cover for elephant ivory items. There are pros and cons for supporting a mammoth ivory trade in respect to elephant conservation. At the moment, however, there is no evidence that the worldwide mammoth ivory trade is adversely affecting the African or Asian elephant. For this reason, and because the species is extinct and large quantities of tusks are still available in Siberia, the commerce in mammoth ivory should not be banned.

The Telegraph reports:

It is a phenomenon that has Russia’s businessmen rubbing their hands together as mammoth ivory can command a much higher price than elephant ivory and sells for as much as £330 per kilogram. Elephant conservationists are hoping that the guilt-free mammoth ivory trade continues to flourish and eventually squeezes out the illegal trade in elephant tusks altogether.

“The large quantities of mammoth tusks imported into Hong Kong, which are mostly sent to the Chinese mainland for carving, probably reduce demand for elephant ivory from Africa,” the report, in a specialist journal called Pachyderm, concluded. “This may in the long run lower elephant ivory prices and reduce incentives to poach elephants.”

Size comparison

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