Friday, January 10, 2014

Elephants, Ivory, Africa and China #2

This posting may have better news on the ivory crisis. Hope so.

Let’s start with this from the online group One Green Planet. It opens with
Many never thought they’d see the day come, but it finally has – China, one of the world’s largest importers of ivory, has announced, that it, along with 29 other nations, will help protect the world’s elephants by criminalizing poaching.

Now, that’s something to celebrate.

A Space For Giants newsletter of December rejoices in the growing tide of goodwill and scale of responses to the elephant/ivory story.

Three days ago I posted on a small part of the ugly mess of the current ivory crisis (not the first) as this 1983 book title indicates. 
For good reviews of this very long-standing issue get hold of either this book by Ian Parker and the late Mohamend Amin  or Ian Parker’s more recent What I Tell You Three Times is True. The latter is a really in-depth examination of the subject.
There has been a considerable amount of social media traffic on many aspects of it. I have picked up some thirty postings in the last month alone. Like the two I opened with about half of them take a slightly different and hopefully more optimistic view of the situation, many of them reporting seizures of ivory, either as raw tusks or worked items. Others deal with criminal trials.

In South Africa, where rhino poaching is a major concern, they are preparing for the elephant war with publicity. This video is well worth the watching. Indeed if you have time for nothing else do spend the ten minutes with it.

Namibia is also being pro-active and investing in technology 
that includes drones, infra-red cameras, tagging with GPS, and the latest software.

There have been recent reports from other African countries such as Gabon, Kenya, Republic of Congo (2 reports) and Mozambique

Tanzania has a real battle on its hands, as indicated by the actions that have recently been taken. They include ivory seizures in Zanzibar and Dar esSalaam The dismissal of many allegedly corrupt wildlife department staff  and several other columns in the on-line allAfrica news that include a call to deal with the  so-called Poaching Barons as well as a call for tougher poaching laws.

Kenya also seems to be taking things more seriously, not only with the new laws I mentioned in the blog of Jan 7 but in catching offenders (again two reports.)

In that Jan 7 post I mentioned that a new law, if signed by President Uhuru Kenyatta, will make it possible to punish poachers with life sentences. A remarkable public admission was made on Jan 3 by a former employee of the Lewa Conservancy. Keleshi Parkusaa, 39, said he has been a poacher even when he was employed there for three years. He obviously admitted his crimes before the law comes into effect in order to avoid that sentence.

Other countries that have taken action are France where 3 tonnes of ivory are to be burned. This picture by Reuters/Keith Bedford shows some of the items. Also Vietnam, where a court has sentenced a company director and his deputy to 3 years in jail each for smuggling 158 pieces of ivory tusks weighing more than 2.4 tons.

And the USA where a  New York City antiques dealer who pleaded guilty to conspiracy for smuggling artifacts made from rhinoceros horns from the U.S. to China and Hong Kong has been sentenced to three years in prison, plus three years’ supervised release.

The key, as everyone realizes, is China.

Basket ball star Yao Ming has been actively campaigning about conservation issues for quite some time and his efforts to publicize the shark’s fin soup issue has yielded encouraging results. He has been similarly active on the ivory front and his and other peoples efforts may be changing the way that folks in China think about these issues.

This anti-elephant poaching story filed from Kenya and Mozambique by Yuan Duanduan titled The Blood Ivory: Behind the Largest Ivory Smuggling Cases in China has gone viral.

In it he wrote
China has become the largest illegal ivory consumer market in the world, but 2 /3 of the Chinese people do not know ivory is obtained through killing the elephant.
The ivory trade has become a source of capital for African terrorist groups, forming a tight secretive network of poachers, small and big middlemen.
In recent news on November 5, 2013, Xiamen Customs announced the largest ivory smuggling cases uncovered in recent years, two cases of which ivory added up to 11.88 tons, worth 603 million yuan. If it hadn’t been seized, the ivory from Africa would have infiltrated China ‘s secretive “black market”, to be eventually sold into private collections.

As of Dec 20 the story had over 10 million Tweets and Retweets on Weibo (China’s Twitter/Facebook hybrid) 

"The article was reposted on 24 online discussion forums or Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) including Mop and Tianya, two of the most popular in China. Thousands of comments were generated on the Tianya BBS forum alone. Overall over 5,000 comments on the article were posted on Weibo, BBS fora, and other websites."

A very clever ploy was to merge the image of China’s iconic panda with the shape of an elephant.  This poster, courtesy of WildAid reads: Protect the pandas of Africa - elephants. When the buying stops the killing can too.

Then came the Jan 6 report of the crushing of 6 tonnes of ivory in Guangzhou and on the same day a senior government administrator's answers to questions from reporters Liu Yang Yang, Wang Xi, Han Qiao about that destruction 

I fear that only very cautious optimism should be felt. One of the several concerned groups Elephant Advocacy had these thoughts about the ivory crush.
While it's encouraging to see China, the world's key consumer of ivory, taking such a step, there would be even more grounds for celebration if it didn't attempt to isolate 'illegal' ivory as the problem while actively promoting a deeply flawed parallel trade in 'legal' ivory which serves to confuse consumers, boost demand and provide a laundering mechanism for illegal ivory. It's difficult, too, to see beyond today's event as a PR exercise when considering that the 6.2 tonnes of ivory crushed represents a small fraction of what we know has been seized in China.

The future?

One of the problems is that nobody really knows the real number s of elephants in Africa. CITES reports probably give the most reliable figures, but even they are inevitably fraught with estimates and inaccuracies. The news that Paul Allen, the Microsoft billionaire has announced that he will fund a pan-African survey is a huge step in the right direction. The will aim to calculate how many actually remain, where they are found, what threats they face and whether their total population numbers are in fact increasing or decreasing.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Elephants, Ivory, Africa and China #1

Warning! This is not a good news posting.

Anyone who follows Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter links that cover wildlife issues cannot fail to have seen the remarkable number of posts since December 1st about the utter disaster that is going on across all African states where elephants are found. Indeed, in some cases one can probably write where elephants used to roam. What a mess! 
The news has gone well beyond the social media scene and this scanned-in report in the Guardian, that I picked up in UK last week,  may have brought it to the attention of many others.  Sadly that is very unlikely to make a jot of difference to those who are engaged in the slaughter elephants and the use of their teeth for human pleasure.

A really authoritative 19-page report by a team from three main conservation groups (CITES Secretariat, IUCN / SSC African Elephant Specialist Group and TRAFFIC International sums it up nicely.

It is titled: Status of African elephant populations and levels of illegal killing and the illegal trade in ivory. 

The report deals with the 2012 situation and a few years prior.  A key sentence in the executive summary tells the sorry tale of the why?  

"Poverty and weak governance in elephant range States, together with demand for illegal ivory in consuming nations, are the three key factors identified by repeated MIKE analyses, including this one, as being most strongly associated with observed poaching trends."

Of the many reports in December 2013 that fit this picture I suppose the ones out of Tanzania are as good an example as any. The Prime Minister Jakaya Kikwete sacked four of his cabinet for what was reported as overzealous use of control measures in the so-called Operation Tokomeza.

Within two days the operation was restarted after a container load of ivory reputedly destined for China was seized at the Dar es Salaam port.

It may be that the situation in Tanzania is the worst in Africa. A posting by Richard Conniff of Dec 18 is titled Elephant Poaching: The Disaster in Tanzania says a lot.
Conniff’s post is either terrifying or beggars belief. He states that “Apparently, managing the media means keeping these results as quiet as possible.” So he quotes from none other than the National Geographic about the number of elephants in the Selous Game reserve alone. The latest, recently announced population estimate is 13,084. This indicates an unprecedented decline of nearly 80 percent over the last six years. For the mathematically disinclined that is a drop from 55,000 since 2007.

The numbers of elephants poached throughout Africa in 2012 are telling enough. The report, which is based on sound studies, gives an estimate of some 15,000 animals but acknowledges that:
Monitoring of elephant populations, apart from at a few well-monitored sites, is sporadic and inconsistent. The low precision of most estimates makes it difficult to detect any immediate repercussion on elephant numbers in the short-term but this does not mean there are no changes.

That is just 2012. There are no properly monitored figures for 2013, but none of the many claims gives a figure lower than 25K. The most dire claim comes from the International Fund for Animals Welfare who suggest that up to “50,000 elephants a year are now being slaughtered.”  In this post on Dec 20  they stated that more than 41 tonnes of elephant ivory have been seized in 2013, the largest quantity in 25 years.
Whether the situation has really “shocked world leaders out of their ennui and into action to halt poaching and ivory trafficking” is real or hoped for is more questionable.

Other postings mention numbers like 25 or 30,000 but all these numbers exceed any possible replacement numbers and all are horrific. Of course the use of cyanide at salt licks is nasty, but the wholesale mowing down of the sentient, intelligent creatures with automatic weapons is probably nastier. In the cyanide case, the affected animals will have died quickly and probably known little of what was happening to their herd mates. With a hail of bullets smashing into bone, lungs, hearts and brains many of the elephants will have been very well aware of what was happening.

Having written this last paragraph from the heart I am horrified to think that I could opine that cyanide was a better way to die than by gunfire. 

The Kenya government seems to have lifted themselves off their collective backsides and taken action. If the new Wildlife Conservation and Management Bill 2013 is signed into law by the president a life sentenced may be handed down for anyone convicted of rhino or elephant poaching.
At the other end of the trade chain a Dec 22 post from the South China Morning Post makes it clear that the Chinese do not seem to share the opinion of the Kenyans. 

Wildlife conservationists slammed a four-month jail term and fines of up to HK$80,000 for five ivory smugglers from the mainland as “too lenient”, saying it will do little to stop the illicit trade. (HK $  = 0.13 US$).

“It is way too lenient because Chinese people buying illicit ivory in Africa know that if they are caught, at most they will just lose the ivory and get a puny fine,” said Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
Tom Milliken, of the wildlife group TRAFFIC, said while he welcomed the jail term as a deterrent, fines could be written off as “the price of doing business”.”

He is probably right. Another post of Dec 22, this one by Simon Parry tells us that the price of ivory in Hong Kong has risen 50-fold in the last 10 years. Not surprisingly big tusks sell at a premium. Parry gives an example of a 65kg pair of mounted tusks is on sale for HK$15 million [almost US $ 2 million] at Chinese Arts and Crafts in Wan Chai.

As described in this post of Dec 13 by Emily Matchar what the rest of the world knows as illegal ivory is called white gold in Hong Kong. With an increasingly wealthy Chinese middle class seeking status symbols does the elephant have a chance? Then of course there are the 270 odd Chinese billionaires (that is not a typo; It is B, not M).

I could go on, as I have only mentioned a small proportion of the December posts, but this one should give some flavour to those who have not been following the situation closely. Anyway, I have just gone over my one thousand word limit.