Illegal Ivory Trade Threat to Elephant Survival – New York Jewelers Caught Selling Ivory

Illegal Ivory Trade Threat to Elephant Survival - New York Jewelers Caught Selling Ivory

Illegal Ivory Trade Threat to Elephant Survival

Last week the Standing Committee of CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife and Flora) met in Geneva. High on its agenda was how to combat the illegal trade of ivory and poaching of elephants, which has been increasing to epic proportions.  Poaching is not the only, but the most pressing, threat to the survival of elephants as a species, and there is mounting evidence that ivory is now the primary reason elephants are poached in Africa.

How bad does this look for the survival of elephants as a species? Africa’s elephant population is down from approximately 1.2 millions in the 1970s, to less than half that number.  Asian elephants, who have far less habitat and face a myriad of threats to their survival, poaching for ivory among them.  According to CITES, between 2002 and 2006, 4 out of every 10 dead elephants in Africa were killed by poachers. Even more shocking and almost incomprehensible, now 8 of every 10 dead elephants are killed by poachers This is a crisis situation that demands immediate action.

What is so special about ivory, that drives humans to kill our largest land mammal, in order to satisfy an insatiable demand for it? Ivory is used in China, as well as other countries, for jewelry, carvings, other art, as well as for billiard balls and ivory piano keys. It is a traditional symbol of wealth and status.  As those who have these values have become wealthier, there has been a desire to display their status.

According to surveys and news reports, antique markets, arts & crafts store, gift shops at 4/5-star hotels, and auctions (including on-line auctions sites) are the main illegal ivory trading channels in addition to the black market.

The public, especially the Chinese public, must become convinced that the price in elephants’ lives is too high a price to pay for the pleasure or status of owning ivory. How high a price? According to a September 20, 2011 piece in the Wall Street Journal, ivory pieces in China have been going for as much as $7,000/kg, up from $157/kg in 2008. That ivory has it owns currency is surprising enough; that has increased in value so dramatically in just over three years is shocking and should be a call to action.

CITES banned the sale of ivory in 1989.  In 2008, it approved a controversial “one-off” sale of over 100 tons of stockpiled ivory from 4 African countries to China and Japan, with the idea of saturating the market to reduce poaching. Given the rapidly growing crisis, other options should be considered.  Yet, there is talk of relaxing the ban again, which will be debated at the next CITES Conference of Parties in Bangkok in March 2013. There are other approaches. Gabon recently burned its stockpile of ivory, with the fire lit among great fanfare by its president, a statement that ivory should not be viewed as a commodity at any price but as a beautiful part of the iconic pachyderm.

Last week the focus on illegal ivory sale turned to New York City.  New York? The Manhattan District Attorney agreed to a plea with two Manhattan jewelers who were selling ivory in plain sight. One agreed to forfeit more than $2 million in ivory items and will pay a fine of $45,000; the other will forfeit $120,000 in ivory and pay a fine of $10,000.  The fines will be donated to the Wildlife Conservation Society.  The jewelers were caught by an off-duty US Fish & Wildlife officer.  USFWS does not have sufficient resources to combat the ivory trade in the U.S., and the House is considering legislation to further cut its budget If the U.S. can’t fight the poachers on the home front, which makes up only a small part of the world ivory demand, what can we expect from other countries?

What is to be done about this problem? Here are some suggestions: CITES should not approve the sale of any more ivory stockpiles. African nations should follow the lead of Gabon and burn its ivory stockpiles. Nations must strengthen the laws against poaching and illegal trafficking of wildlife and ivory and enforce them.  Educate the Chinese population so that the public is painfully aware that ivory comes from elephants being killed for their tusks. Last but not least: Don’t buy ivory! It’s not harmless! If you’re on vacation and see a beautiful ivory carving or necklace, don’t buy it  - call the police! It is almost certainly illegal.

There is a lot of work to be done, and the stakes are high.
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The views expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person or organization.

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About the author:
Steven Stone is an attorney and a partner in Rubin, Winston, Diercks, Harris & Cooke, LLP.  He is passionate about a number of charitable causes, and has a particular interest in international conservation, animal welfare and education.
Contact: [antibot mailto="[email protected]"]

Photo: TRAFFIC Southeast Asia

Posted by on Wednesday August 01 2012, 10:33 AM EDT. Ref: Steven Stone. All trademarks acknowledged. Filed under Featured News, Health, Original. Comments and Trackbacks closed. Follow responses: RSS 2.0

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