Arresting Evidence

Sat, 2007-09-01 17:08 by Jan · Forum/category:

Arresting Evidence - 01.09.2007, 19:04:39

By Natasha Loder, Conservation Magazine
July-September 2007 (Vol. 8, No. 3)

State-of-the-art forensic technology is forcing us to face the reality that even our most applauded trade bans and moratoriums aren’t working. From ivory cell phones to shark fin soup, it’s all available—at a price.

Inside a glitzy store in one of China’s port cities is a room that might shock you. Low lights, shiny glass, and mirrored cabinets: the room is a temple to ivory. It’s all available at a price, from tiny figurines to massive high-end carvings and even entire carved elephant tusks. A new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) (1) in the U.K. says it’s a similar story all over China. Trade in ivory goods is flourishing, from key holders and chopsticks to pendants, bead earrings, and hankos. Given enough money, it is even possible to buy an ivory mobile phone. It all begs a simple but unsettling question: where does all this ivory come from 17 years after the international trade was halted?

Historically, Africa once had millions of elephants, maybe as many as 10 million. But from the 1970s, an orgy of elephant poaching ensued in which tens of thousands of animals were killed every year. By 1979, there were 1.3 million African elephants left; the decline continued throughout the 1980s until scientists warned that the elephant would go extinct. Some say that by 1989, almost half of Africa’s elephants had been slaughtered in the previous eight years. The carnage led to a successful consumer campaign against ivory, and in 1989, a complete ban on the international trade in ivory through CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). It was an exciting time for those trying to save the elephant, as they watched the European and American markets dry up.

But all that has changed. Increased wealth in Asia—particularly in China, where markets were never closed down—is driving the price of ivory to a record US$850 per kilogram, up from US$200 per kilogram in 2004. Poaching is rampant, and new evidence shows that the illegal trade is booming again, even in the U.S.

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