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Extinction, Art & The Ivory Crush

The Western Black Rhino (pictured below from CNN) was last seen in 2006. This subspecies of the black rhino is native to Africa and has been declared by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature - the world’s largest conservation network) to be extinct

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The black rhino species is now listed as “critically endangered” and the northern white rhino is “teetering on the brink of extinction” (IUCN reports to CNN). In 1960 there were roughly 70,000 black rhinos. Today an estimated 4,000 remain.

“In the case of the Western black rhino and the Northern white rhino, the situation could have had very different results if the suggested conservation measures had been implremented,” said Simon Stuart of the IUCN.

While we mourn for the Western Black Rhino, this tragic loss of an iconic subspecies is just a foreshadow of what is to come if nothing is done to stop the demand for illegal ivory and rhino horn. Every day, 96 elephants are slaughtered for their ivory tusks (please click to learn more & sign the Wildlife Conservation Society’s petition to have the United States declare a moratorium on ivory sales in the U.S.) At this rate, estimates are between 10-50 years until elephants are extinct in the wild.

The greatest demand for ivory and other illegal wildlife parts is led by China. Just this last week, the largest ivory seizure in Chinese history took place in Xiamen. Customs officials “smashed” a transcontinental smuggling ring responsible for illegally importing 12 tons of ivory worth 603 million yuan (HK $767 million). Two gangs were responsible for the smuggling in of well over 3,000 ivory tusks this year (that’s about 1500 elephants).  Earlier this week in Tanzania, three Chinese nationals were arrested with 797 elephant tusks. Until the demand is suppressed, the Western Black Rhino is a sad example of the future for many of Africa’s iconic species.

So how to stop demand? The combination of stricter laws against ivory trade and raising public awareness through education. With most of China’s citizens having a misunderstanding of where ivory actually comes from (because the Chinese word for elephant literally means “teeth” most people do not realize you must kill the elephant to harvest it’s “teeth”), WildAid and other organizations are working hard to change public perception and understanding of the ivory trade. Artist Jay Asher explains his passion for using art to educate,

By transforming consumers into conservationists, we can directly impact the future of Africa’s rhinos and elephants.  Through these educational public media ads (see below), the hope is for consumers to become advocates for elephants and rhinos rather than consumers of ivory and rhino horn (Learn more about the campaign HERE.)

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But does education and advocacy really do anything? Will it change the future for the elephant? Or the rhino?

Nelson Mandela once said,

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world

That is why we do what we do on this blog and through Facebook/Twitter. To raise awareness. To provide ways for people to get involved and help create a better future for elephants and humans to exist TOGETHER for much more than the next 50 years. Conservation and education efforts DO work. The IUCN testifies that the southern white rhino subspecies, which at the end of the 19th century had less than 100 left in the wild, now has an estimated population of 20,000.

And while the U.S. has not placed a moratorium on ivory (YET), we are proud to see that they will be crushing their ivory stockpiles in Denver this November 14. We leave you with this inspiring video from the U.S.Fish & Wildlife Service (click to read details about the upcoming crush):

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Ele-News Update

The past few days have had some very significant Elephant news! It’s exciting to see how public outcry from people like you and me from around the world help to make a difference in the lives of elephants.

1. Last week, South Africa caught two poachers. They did not give them bail, and set their sentence to 15 years in prison. According to the report, “the South Africans have made it very clear that they will use all means at their disposal to defend the Kruger Park from poachers.” Read the full story HERE

2. In Kenya, there has been little deterrent to smugglers and ivory poachers. According to a report, “Last month in Kenya, a Chinese smuggler caught in Kenya with a haul of ivory was fined less than a dollar (euro) a piece. The smuggler, who was arrested carrying 439 pieces of worked ivory while in transit in Nairobi as he travelled from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Hong Kong, was fined $350 (270 euros) and was then set free. Such fines pose little if any deterrence, with experts suggesting a kilogramme of ivory has an estimated black market value of some $2,500.” But Kenya is now ready to do something about this, since tourism is “one of Kenya’s most important foreign currency earners.” First Kenya plans to toughen the poaching sentences on criminals. Second, one thousand new wildlife officers “will soon be recruited to beef up the ranger force as part of strengthening operations with a view to stamping out the poaching menace.” Read the full story HERE.

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An elephant at the Amboseli game reserve in Kenya on December 30, 2012. Kenya plans to bolster current lenient sentences for convicted wildlife poachers or ivory smugglers in a bid to stamp out a spike in elephant killings, the government said. Photo reposted from Kenya article link above.

3. Here in the US, on April 4 the first class of “wildlife detector dogs” graduated from training school! In the next few weeks, they will be stationed at key ports of entry around the country, searching for wildlife smuggled across U.S. borders. The four retrievers – named Viper, Butter, Lancer and Locket ­– have been trained as part of a national effort to stem the growing trade in threatened animal parts such as elephant ivory and rhino horn.“The recent rapid growth in the global trade in protected wildlife is pushing some species perilously close to extinction. Elephant and rhino populations in particular are declining at alarming rates,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement Deputy Chief Ed Grace. “The battle to stop wildlife smuggling is one we simply cannot afford to lose, and using dogs and their phenomenal sense of smell to catch smugglers will give us a real leg up in this effort.” Read the full story HERE.

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(Photo: Tom MacKenzie / USFWS)

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