Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Conserving Elephant Life

"Peter Knights heads a pressure group called Wild Aid. He has argued that only a 'demand-side' approach to elephant conservation will reduce poaching. This means working with Chinese celebrities, such as basketball star Yao Ming, to persuade China's newly empowered middle class that ivory statues made of smuggled tusks will not bring the blessings that their priests have promised them. Toward the same end, the American Buddhist Confederation has lobbied New York and other states to ban ivory sales, as Manhattan has been central to the ivory trade.
"During my 17 years in East Africa, I met many of the first Chinese entrepreneurs who had come to the continent to make their fortunes. I found them to be interested in, and open to, the world. They are also interested in wildlife and enjoy going on Safari in game parks such as the Serengeti, as much as anyone else. If a concentrated media campaign was aimed at them, utilizing Chinese media celebrities, the demand for ivory could disappear in a short period of time."
Anthropologist Geoffrey Clarfield
Elephant Herd photographed on Expedition Wild Kenya Masai Mara Tsavo Photo Safari"

Africa is in the throes of yet another continent-wide surge of elephant poaching, the illegal and brutal killing of elephants to obtain their tusks for sale to the highest bidder in a market mad for ivory. Yearly, it is estimated that roughly 25,000 of the great pachyderms are killed across Africa. In the last ten years poachers have managed to destroy 60% of Africa's elephant herds. Expert opinion has it that at the very least twenty-five elephants are killed each day.

A century earlier the elephants of the Serengeti plain were scarce in numbers. In the late 19th century they were in decline as Swahili hunters killed them in record numbers and the purpose at that time was to supply Britain and Europe with the wherewithal to produce billiard balls and piano keys. When Tanzania as Tanganyika was under the authority of Britain's East African dominion conservation and ecology were to become vital issues when the Serengeti was declared a protected area in 1940.

With the banning of big game hunting elephant herds were resuscitated. And in 1951 the Serengeti officially was declared a national park. In the early days of Tanzanian independence elephants prospered, but by the 1970s and 1980s criminal poachers were once again destroying elephant herds to sell their ivory tusks to avid buyers in the Far East where ivory sculptures were more important than living elephants.

Botswana Game Drive Digital Photo Safari

China regarded Africa as an ongoing source of raw materials, an area of prospective emigration and soon enough the Chinese were recognized as a economic and political force in sub-Saharan Africa, with over a million Chinese making their home across the continent now, and as economic prospects increase, the purchase of ivory or ivory products becomes ever more appealing. Triggering the most recent wave of elephant poaching, facilitating massive smuggling along the Indian Ocean coast.

Herds from Mali to the Red Sea suffer dreadful losses as a result of poaching. The major motivator now is the religious beliefs of the Chinese and South East Asians, including Catholic Filipinos, all of whom value smuggled ivory that become carvings of Saints and Baby Jesus in the Philippines and Islamic prayer beads in the Muslim world, Coptic Crosses in Egypt and religious sculptures in Buddhist countries. The lions share, however, goes to China.

Photo: Daniel Rosengren
© Daniel Rosengren
Daniel Rosengren

In China, 200 million Buddhists and countless millions more in Thailand and Southeast Asia, along with 75 million Catholics in the Philippines yearn for ivory in the creation of sacred statues, blessed by priests and taken to have religious power bringing good fortune. These are religious countries, and ivory is considered a sacred element. The wealth-incentive for poachers and smugglers motivates them to supply their clients with ivory from Kenya and Tanzania, located within easy access to Asian markets.

The illegal sale of two tusks of Tanzanian ivory on the black market is equivalent in value to a year's salary for people in the region. One survey from China concluded that a majority of the people polled had the idea that ivory falls out of elephants' mouths like discarded teeth, with no idea that most of the ivory they see around them transformed into talismans and statuettes and prayer beads had been smuggled into their country illegally.

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