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The End of the First Month

It’s hard to believe we’re already coming to the end of January. A lot has happened for elephants this year.

IN CHINA:

On January 6, 2013, China destroyed 6 tons of ivory. This was the first time China — which according to CNN reports, accounts for 70% of global demand for ivory — had destroyed any of its confiscated ivory. Jianguo He, who has worked against the ivory trade for 12 years with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), said witnessing the event was bittersweet:

“When you see six tonnes of ivory, you can’t help but think ‘how many elephants was that? What did those elephants die for? Ivory is not a necessity, it is simply a luxury item that people don’t need. Every ivory product means an elephant was killed. That means a loss of life and a loss of biodiversity. This is not art any more. People are exploiting nature for all it can give.”*

The sad truth is, this amount that was destroyed represents only a fraction of the amount housed in China. Some estimate*  there is closer to 45 tons of ivory stored in China!  Although this was a great first step, advocates pushed for China to do more. And on January 23, Hong Kong announced the plan to destroy 28 tons of ivory  in three batches beginning July 2014. That represents the tusks of about 11,000 elephants. The country plans to keep 1 ton of ivory for “educational and scientific purposes.”

China, which accounts for 70% of the illegal ivory trade, still has a long way to go. But we are pleased to see how 2014 is starting out - and are hopeful that maybe this year will be the year of the elephant!

A shipment of more than 700 ivory tusks worth over $1 million was seized by customs officials in Hong Kong in early January 2013. PHOTOGRAPH BY BOBBY YIP, REUTERS

A shipment of more than 700 ivory tusks worth over $1 million was seized by customs officials in Hong Kong in early January 2013.
PHOTOGRAPH BY BOBBY YIP, REUTERS

IN NEW YORK:

The fight for elephants began in November of 2012 when then Secretary of State raised awareness about the elephant crisis and the need to stop the slaughter of Africa’s elephants. President Obama gave an executive order in July 2013 earmarking $10 million for training and technical assistance in Africa to combat wildlife trafficking. He also created the White House Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking. Then in the fall of 2013, 18 global conservation groups announced a 3-year, $80 million Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action to stop the killing, stop the trafficking and stop the demand for ivory. They were joined by 7 Africa heads of state calling on consumer and transit countries to ban the sale of ivory. November 2013 the US crushed 6 tons of ivory and put $45 million in new funding to combat wildlife trafficking in the fiscal year 2014 budget along with a bill that would place a moratorium on all domestic ivory sales. On January 16, NY Assembly Members met to discuss this bill to ban the ivory trade here in the US. Many of you wrote letters and received responses like this. At the hearing this month, Assemblyman Sweeney was disturbed to hear that “New York has become one of the main points of entry for the illegal ivory trade,” and for that reason he wants to see a policy change on the local level. One outcome of the hearing may eventually be a push for a statewide ban on ivory sales. WCS will be supporting such action through its newly launched 96 Elephants campaign.*

It’s taken a few years, but we are excited to see the world’s second largest consumer in ivory taking large strides to combat the illegal ivory trade. We look forward to 2014 with hope that our leaders will vote YES to ban the sale of ivory. If you haven’t already, please send a note to your local government officials. CLICK HERE for a template (copy/paste and email to your local government officials) or if you live in Texas, sign THIS PETITION. 

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WCS Executive Vice President for Public Affairs John Calvelli joins WCS VP for Species Conservation Elizabeth Bennett, WCS President & CEO Cristian Samper and Jane Goodall at the Clinton Global Initiative’s announcement of a 3-year, $80-million Commitment to Action to protect African elephants. Photo © Julie Larsen Maher/WCS.

IN AFRICA:

Great strides have been taken in Kenya to fight back against poachers seeking to destroy the wildlife heritage of the nation as well as create political & social unrest. Last fall 2013, terrorist Al Shabaab attacked a mall in Nairobi. Later it was found at least 40% of the terrorist group funding came from the illegal ivory trade on the black market. Hand Off Our Elephants campaign backed by First Lady Kenyatta began an initiative to strengthen anti-poaching laws. We are pleased to hear that in January of 2014, a bill was signed that increased fines and added possibility of life sentences in jail. And it’s already bearing fruit: earlier this week, Tang Yong Jian, a Chinese national, who was allegedly attempting to smuggle 3.2 kilograms of raw ivory out of Kenya to China, was caught. He faces a $230,000 fine OR 7 years in prison if he doesn’t pay. Prior to the new law (Wildlife Act of 2013), Tang Yong Jian would have been free to go after facing less than a $1000 fine, a punishment that provided little deterrent to smugglers because ivory fetches around $2400 per kilogram in China.

Next door to Kenya, Tanzania is loosing the most elephants per year in all of Africa. The Selous, a World Heritage Site, is now known as “Africa’s Killing Fields.”  The Mikumi-Selous ecosystems have just 13,084 elephants left (compared to 39,000 in 2009), Ruaha-Rungwa ecosystems have just 29,090 elephants left, and the Kilombero Game Controlled Area have no elephants left. Tanzania also houses the worlds largest storehouse of confiscated ivory. Currently the country is asking CITES for an allowance for a one-off legal sale. But ivory cannot fund conservation. Take a moment to CLICK HERE and contact Mr. Lazaro Nyalandu, Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism, and ask him to destroy Tanzania’s ivory. In doing so, this would send a clear and critical message to the world, much like the ivory burn in Kenya in 1989.

IFAW

Shared from IFAW: Ivory Burn in 1989 Kenya

AT ELEPHANTOPIA:

We had our first official board meeting this month! We are busy writing our vision and mission statements as we begin the process of applying for nonprofit status. Our goal is two-fold: we want to raise awareness about the ivory trade elephant crisis through educational campaign and action events here in the States, and we want to partner with a local community in Africa to protect the elephants while supporting locals who may otherwise see the elephant as merely a pest or as white gold. Plans are underway for an educational campaign aimed at elementary students here in the US and we are having discussions are with an elephant orphanage in Africa about how Elephantopia can be a part of their mission to restore whole communities (both for elephants and the local people). With all the positive movements for elephants this January 2014, we are hopeful that this year will be a peaceful and protected year for the elephant.

Photo source unknown

Photo source unknown

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Notes from the Battlefield

Last night I had the opportunity to watch the screening of Battle for the Elephants at the Houston Zoo with film producer John Heminway, Katie Carpenter and Dr. Peter Li on panel for discussion. It was a moving event - both the film itself and the conversations that followed. Below are a few thoughts and quotes from the night.

REVIEW OF FILM:

Battle for the Elephants Poster

Battle for the Elephants Poster

The film begins with this thought: at one point in time, elephants were used to measure the seasons - they would come and go signaling the start and end of the rainy period. They had no enemy. But then, they became their own worst enemy. Their tusks began to represent perfection, purity and money. No longer were elephants simply part of life in the African bush. Now they are worth their weight in gold: white gold. 

It all started a few hundred years ago. In the 1800s there were about 26 million elephants in Africa. Throughout the coming century however, ivory demand grew in places like the United States and Africa’s elephants dropped to 10 million by 1913. And by 1979, there were only 1.3 million elephants left on the continent. Today? There are an estimated 400,000 elephants left. Africa’s elephants, they symbol of a nation’s wealth and heritage, will be extinct in the near future if nothing is done to stop the illegal ivory trade.

The trade itself is fueled mainly by China - as the middle class continues to grow in wealth, they look back to their history and find a connection with their past through the cultural traditions of ivory carving. The problem? What once was a trade done by a few skilled artisans who hand-carved tusks (often taking 2 years to complete one piece of art) is now being done in factories housing hundreds of “carvers” who use electronic tools to carve into the ivory.

The documentary asks the question: is this craft or this species more valuable? Because both cannot survive. 

In the film, a good portion of time is spent in China examining the demand for ivory and linking it to both cultural and religious practices (one Buddhist is interviewed saying he believes the elephants are happy dying, knowing that their tusks are used for the Buddha). At the same time, the film examines Africa, the source of the ivory. Tanzania, home of the Selous, a world heritage site for wildlife and elephants, is now known as “Africa’s Killing Fields” by many conservationists as the country has lost over 66% of their elephants to poaching in last few years alone. The country is one of the poorest in Africa, and the elephant represents a way to change your lifestyle. Even the government officials seem to be corrupted by the white gold. The most horrific scene in the film is at the storehouses of ivory in Tanzania (the largest storehouse in the world valued over 50 million dollars) and seeing what is described as a genocide memorial: the end of the elephant. Tusks confiscated 20 years ago compared to those confiscated today show the impact poaching has had - it was once common to have tusks larger than the human body. Now, most of the tusks are easily held in one hand - baby tusks.

The video ends with this statement: we shouldn’t give up hope, but it is a race against time.

Battle for the Elephants Photograph

Battle for the Elephants Photograph

NOTES FROM SPEAKERS:

John Heminway has produced many documentaries - but he feels this film is different, stating that he has “never created a film that has had such an afterlife like this…” It has been shown at the CITES convention in Bangkok last year, in Nairobi this film encouraged First Lady Kenyatta to launch the HANDS OFF OUR ELEPHANTS campaign, it has been viewed by the US Senate with the senator from Delaware championing the cause, it has been shown at a congressional hearing at the US state department with copies sent to consulates around the world…Why has this film been different from other documentaries? Because the subject matter surprises people. Heminway states,

“most people didn’t know the story of supply and demand. The poaching fiasco is tally destabilizing the continent. Nations are being undone. Terrorists are funded from this activity.” Heminway concluded stating,  ”if you lose the elephant in Africa, you lose the heart of Africa.

Many questions about ivory in Africa were presented - and one new fact I learned was from Dr. Peter Li who said that “Ivory is being sold in China as an investment.” Not only is ivory a status symbol rich with cultural tradition, it is now a currency of investment! Dr. Li challenges China that if the country seeks to be the next world leader, then it must make the right decisions regarding the illegal ivory trade. He concluded his thoughts with this statement (which generated much applause):

“I consider the ivory trade as a criminal act - do we need to try to placate the demand? We all understood that slavery could not be tolerated. Did we try to improve it so we could still keep slavery? Or did we just end it? It [the ivory trade] must not be allowed to continue, it is totally immoral.”

All speakers agreed the best way forward is two fold: behavioral change and legal change in both Asia and Africa.

For China, behavioral change to decrease demand for ivory (by making it an embarrassment to own ivory through awareness campaigns) AND government action to tell the people of China to stop buying ivory. Being an authoritative government, a decree issued from them would definitely change the consumer’s purchases. Culture may be hard to change, but according to Dr. Li,

“culture is not stagnant. It is always changing. Think about the Chinese cultural tradition that women should have small feet, so they bound their feet. It was considered an art form. In the past. But not anymore. It was ended.”

Likewise with the ivory trade, it must be considered an art form of the past. But not anymore.

For Africa, behavioral change to address human-elephant conflict over land and food as well as rewarding those who protect elephants. Katie Carpenter noted that Tanzania looses more elephants every day than any other African nation. Why? Because many rangers are promised great pay for their work to protect the wildlife, yet are never actually paid. The corruption and the lack of incentive is the perfect recipe for elephant slaughters. Which leads to the legal side, getting governments to fight the international gang dealers who are running the illegal ivory trade in their countries. On Jan 10, Kenya’s wildlife law went into effect. Now if you are found in possession of ivory, you face the possibility of a half million dollar fine AND life imprisonment. This law needs to be enforced and other countries in Africa need to follow.

Overal, the picture is grim for the Africa elephant. John Heminway believes we will see pockets of extinction occur within the next few years. Last year, Burundi just lost their last elephant. The forest elephants are next on they live in a highly unstable political area of Africa where there is minimal protection. The forest elephant’s tusks are also a harder ivory, which is more valued by the Chinese. But as the world hears of these pockets of extinction, it can only be hoped that behaviors and governments will begin changing. Hope is not lost as people like YOU and ME get involved, tell the story, and create change. I leave you with this thought from J.R.R. Tolkien:

“There is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.”

Photo source unknown

HAVEN’T SEEN THE DOCUMENTARY? CLICK HERE TO WATCH IT ON PBS

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Tanzania’s White Gold

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Wikipedia

A census released this week states that many of the country’s parks have seen elephant populations plummet by up to 66% in just 4 years. 

Mikumi-Selous ecosystems have just 13,084 elephants left (compared to 39,000 in 2009!)
Ruaha-Rungwa ecosystems have just 29,090 elephants left (compared to 31,600 in 2009!)
Kilombero Game Controlled Area have no elephants left (compared to 2080 elephants in 2002!)

In Mikumi-Selous the counters recorded 6,516 bodies and in Ruaha-Rungwa 3,496 bodies were recorded. Only about 8% of these deaths were thought to be natural.

Deputy minister for Natural Resources and Wildlife Lazaro Nyalandu speaking at the census launch highlighted that in the five years between 2008 and 2013 Tanzanian had seized nearly 33 tonnes of tusks on its way out of the country. (these numbers shared from Wildlife News)

CONTACT TANZANIA :: ACTION REQUIRED!

Please take a moment to comment on Deputy Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Mr. Lazaro Nyalandu and ask him to follow China’s example & destroy the ivory stockpiles in Tanzania!

COMMENT HERE: https://www.facebook.com/lazaro.nyalandu.5

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24 Tanzania News

According to reports: “Apparently, destroying the ‘white gold’ seems to be out of question. Two years ago, the whole world raised hell when Dar requested permission from international communities to sell off the ivory stockpile, currently weighing over 100 metric tonnes and counting.”

Please take a moment and ask Mr. Nyalandu to consider following other nations and to destroy their ivory to help end the ivory trade! Be sure to add the hashtag: #SayNoToIvory 

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Thank the President!

Today, President Obama is in Tanzania launching a new initiative with local officials to stop wildlife crime. He is granting $10 million towards the poaching epidemic in Africa. Wildlife crime (in which elephants, rhinos, sharks and other species are hunted in developing nations and sold to consumers in wealthier countries) has reached unprecedented heights in recent years. According to the report in the Washington Post, it is now valued at between $7 billion to $10 billion a year, placing it among the world’s top five illegal activities after drugs, human trafficking, counterfeiting and arms.

Thank YOU for joining these efforts. Through your tweets, emails and phone calls, you are helping to raise awareness about this issue. “One thing we have been doing so far is raising the global profile of how bad this issue is,” Grant Harris, the senior director for Africa for the National Security Council, said. ”We’ve also had a massive diplomatic campaign, including under the leadership of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, when she was at the State Department, convening people at State and making this a big diplomatic part of our policy.”

Now there’s one more ACTION STEP you can do - please take a moment to send a THANK YOU NOTE to the President. Let him know how glad you are to see our government making a difference to eradicate poaching, creating a safer world for us all to live. Click on the above link or the picture of Tanzania elephants below to send your email today. images

 

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Happy Weekend: Baby Elephant Dances

Sweet video of a baby elephant in Tanzania dancing around in the wild. Happy Weekend!

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Q&A

We received some emails with various questions about elephants. Maybe you have some too. We are going to begin to answer these questions every Thursday. Send us a note with yours and you can be featured here too!

QUESTION from Anonymous: 

Is China solely responsible for the ivory trade issue, or is there something we need to change here in the States to help?

ANSWER:

(details from NYTimes and Washington Post articles)

The Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that the illegal ivory trade is now three times as large as it was in 1998. And seizures of illegal ivory shipments over one ton (or 800 kg) in size have doubled since 2009. A 2011 study from CITES monitored 60 of the locations most-frequented by elephants. They found that an astounding 7.4 percent of those elephants were killed illegally just that year. On those sites, which account for about 40 percent of the entire African population, they estimated that 17,000 elephants were killed.

One wonders, where is all this ivory going? Most of it comes from Africa and ships to countries in Asia. The countries involved in this illegal trade are often called the Gang of Eight”: the exporters Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda; middleman states Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines; and consumers China and Thailand.

“The Chinese hold the key to the elephants’ future,” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants. “If things continue the way they are, many countries could lose their elephants altogether.”

And since the beginning of 2012, more than 32,000 elephants have been illegally killed, claims the Born Free Foundation, a wildlife organization. Conservationists say the majority of ivory is sold to China, where it sells for more than $1,300 a pound on the black market.

“China is clearly driving the illegal ivory trade more than any other nation on earth,” said Tom Milliken, an elephant expert with the wildlife trade-monitoring network Traffic.

It would be easy to solely blame China. And evidence does show that much of the ivory trade is based on Asian consumption. However, China is not alone in it’s transgressions. In America, and other countries where the issue of ivory seems irrelevant and almost non-existent, we participate in the ivory trade through apathy. Most people don’t realize that elephants will be extinct in some parts of Africa by 2020. And when we do learn about it, nothing is done. Apathy, the lack of concern and indifference, is just as bad as poaching. America, through apathy, should be listed with the “Gang of Eight” because standing by and idly watching while an entire species is destroyed carries the same amount of bloodshed as poaching. (Check out this latest blog post on apathy, the greatest threat to elephants, for more details).

So please, take a moment and do something about this. SHARE THIS BLOG with people who may not know about the the elephant crisis. SIGN THIS PETITION and then get your friends to as well.

world-transit-map

(Map cartographer/designer Riccardo Pravettoni, GRID-Arendal, reposted from http://www.grida.no/graphicslib/detail/large-scale-ivory-seizures_6732)

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Thoughts from the Battle

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Photo reposted from National Geographic

After watching National Geographic’s Battle for the Elephants last week, people around the world know about the plight of elephants. Here are some of the numbers facts that stood out to me, please share what stood out to you below. (Didn’t see the episode? CLICK HERE for the full length version from PBS)

NUMBERS TO REMEMBER:

80% of the population in China own 1 or more pieces of ivory. Remember, China’s population 1.3 billion and growing.

70 elephants are poached each day.

Each day, 60,000 containers travel from Mombasa to Hong Kong over 5,000 miles of Indian ocean. But customs agents in China inspect fewer than 1%. It’s a smugglers dream.

Recently there was a bust in the port of China with 8,000 lbs of ivory found (equivalent to 600 elephants, which is less than 3% of the 25,000 elephants that CITES estimated were killed in 2012 alone.)

In 1979 - 1.3 million elephants in Africa.In 1800 - there were 26 million elephants in Africa.

In 1989 - 600,000 elephants in Africa.

Today it is estimated there are only 400,000 elephants in Africa.

In 1999 and 2008, CITES allowed two legal sales of stockpiled ivory.

20 years ago, ivory was banned. In China, ivory sellers claim their ivory comes from pre-ban ivory. According to the IFAW, 60% of ivory sold in China is legal. Due to the enormous amount of ivory in China, this means that 84% of items on display could be illegal.

In China, ivory pieces sell for $20,000, $50,000, $200,00,  $600,000 and more.

In Kenya, the Big Life Foundation offers locals training and jobs as park rangers to protect elephants from poachers. There are now 230 rangers from the community and in the last 18 months, only 16 elephants have been lost (compare this to the 30 a day that are being lost in Tanzania: in fact, 30,000 elephants have been lost here, 40% of the elephant population).

The largest game reserve in Africa, Selous, is home to 60% of Tanzania’s elephants, but guides have noted a disturbing trend of poaching in the last ten years as can be seen in the elephants behavior.

In Tanzania, 20 kilos of ivory sells for about $8,000. In China, that same ivory sells for over $40,000.

In Tanzania there are 90 metric tons of ivory in reserve. It is the largest known cash of raw ivory in the world. What should one of the poorest nations in the world (Tanzania) do with this ivory?

CITES meets in March 2013 to discuss the issue of ivory poaching and legal sales of stockpiles. Some representatives believe that no trade means no confusion on legal and illegal ivory. Others believe having a dead elephant is a valuable resource that should not be thrown away. What will they decide this March - to ban ivory altogether, or continue to allow legal ivory to be sold?

Although these numbers seem grim, I have to believe as Aiden Hartley does, “we shouldn’t give up hope, but it is a race against time.”

To win this race, take a moment to do the following, to turn your knowledge into action:

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1. SIGN the petition to the Prime Minister of Thailand asking they ban legal ivory.

2. SEND a letter to John Kerry that asks for the United State’s support on this issue.

3. SHARE this blog with your family and friends. Education is key to raising awareness. Once people know, then they can begin to do.

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Posing as Poachers

This video  is part two of a series National Geographic is airing on PSB this Feb. 27. Catch up with the previous 4 minute clip here.

Undercover journalist Aldan Hartley poses as an ivory buyer in Dar es Salaam where selling ivory is illegal. However big money can be made in this criminal activity. For just 4 tusks, the seller Hartley meets wants $4000, and in China, these 4 tusks will sell for over $40,000. Currently in China there are 137 government designated shops selling ivory, most of which is illegal.

Follow Hartley on his journey as an “ivory trader,” exploring the world of illegal animal trade, as dangerous if not more so, than the narcotic trade.

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