Cheers!

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This past Thursday, June 2, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service announced a near-total ban on the commercial trade of African elephant ivory. More than 1.3 million comments were filed during the public comment period for this proposal — the second highest number of comments received in the USFWS’s history.  Wildlife organizations flooded social media with cheers and praise for this long-sought strengthening of our laws governing the trade of ivory. Everyone who helped make this a reality should participate in the celebration.

Now for a reality check:  what does it really mean and what impact will it have on elephant poaching?  This is not a ban on the importation of ivory — that has been the law for decades. Rather, this new rule will govern how ivory can be traded in commercial and non-commercial situations in the United States across state lines.  The FAQ accompanying the news release states the following:

There will be no practical impact on the commercial import of African elephant ivory given the import prohibitions already in place under the African Elephant Conservation Act moratorium. Similarly, restrictions on intrastate commerce will remain unchanged under the final rule, since the ESA does not apply to sales within a state. However, CITES “use-after-import” provisions (in 50 CFR 23.55) continue to apply to sales within a state. In addition, certain states have enacted additional restrictions on the trade of ivory within a state. There is nothing in the ESA, this proposed rule, the AfECA, or our CITES regulations that prohibits the possession, donation or noncommercial interstate movement of listed species, including their parts or products, provided they were lawfully acquired. This will not change under the final rule.

 

So what is different?  Like many laws, the devil is in the detail and the final ruling, which goes into effect on July 6, 2016, will go into great detail about what existing ivory items can be traded, under what circumstances, and types of proof required to demonstrate that this is “old” ivory.  The interests that objected to the proposed ruling — museums, gun owners, musicians, etc. — were successful in having exemptions made for their pet ivory items; e.g., antiques, collectibles, musical instruments made with ivory, guns with ivory trim and big game trophies.  They collectively argued that their type of ivory has not and is not driving the poaching crisis.  Most ivory objects that are affected by the new rule are those which have been imported illegally and purchased under less than genuine conditions; for example, carved ivory trinkets that were smuggled into the U.S. and sold under the guise of being antiques.

The U.S. has been the world’s second largest market for illegal ivory for some time.  Yet, the number of law enforcement agents dedicated to wildlife trafficking is miniscule.   Without an increase in enforcement, will it be just as easy to ignore these new rules as it has been to ignore the old rules?  It took three years, beginning July 2013, to create, vet and finalize these new rules.  During that three years, 100,000 elephants died, mostly from poaching. .  . poaching driven by demand for ivory trinkets in China and other parts of Asia as well as in the U.S.  The old laws have not stopped demand; the new laws will not likely diminish demand.  The old laws have not been enforced effectively and without more law enforcement resources, the new laws will be difficult to enforce.  Reducing demand is what will save the elephant.  With all due respect to law, you cannot legislate morality or regulate desire.  Hard driving media campaigns, peer pressure and public education remain the greatest weapons in reducing demand and therefore poaching.

Don’t misunderstand — I too am celebrating the political victory and intent of the ruling.  A U.S. delegation to China next week will be discussing China’s pledge to adopt laws that are similar to what the U.S. is willing to adopt.  Meanwhile, the poaching disease is spreading, Kenya‘s burning its ivory while Zimbabwe and Namibia are lobbying to be able to trade their surplus ivory.  So this week we can take time to celebrate but next week, it’s back to work as much remains to be done in order to ensure we have wild elephants forever!

Join the Herd on World Wildlife Day

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Tomorrow, March 3, is World Wildlife Day. Established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2013, the purpose of World Wildlife Day is to build awareness of and develop solutions to threats to wildlife at the local and global levels. This year, the theme is: “The future of wildlife is in our hands.” African and Asian elephants will be a main focus of the Day under the theme “The future of elephants is in our hands.”

Awareness of the plight of the elephant is much higher today than a year ago.  But the poaching crisis continues.  Check this site tomorrow to see who the winners are in the International Elephant Film Festival.  Also, WildAid has declared 2016 “The Year of the Elephant” to continue the increase in awareness with the hope that 2016 will be the first year in a while that more elephants are born than killed, a key goal in stopping the path to extinction.  Join the Herd is a communications effort sponsored by WildAid  toward that goal. Do your part by joining the herd (it’s free and fun) and by supporting those organizations that are making a true difference.

And remember, all this will work only if we make every day about holding the future of elephants in our hands.

 

Elephants Forever Reached 102 Countries in 2015

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Word Press just sent me the annual report on the Elephants Forever site and thanks to all of you, we had 5,100 visitors in 2015 from a total of 102 countries!  On the map above, only the countries in white did not produce a visitor.  Our message is getting out!  Please continue to “like” Elephants Forever in  2016 and send links to the blog to others in and outside your social networks.  Such amazing reach with relatively little effort. I thank you, the elephants thank you, everyone involved in stopping the trade in ivory thanks you.

If the weather has you housebound this weekend and you have access to the Outdoor Channel, click here to see airing times this Friday and Saturday (January 8 and 9) for “White Gold” — Ivan Carter’s report on ivory poaching in southern Africa.  See how poaching has spread to Mozambique and into South Africa.  The challenge before us remains large and requires a global response!

New Year’s Greetings

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Nothing like a new year to reflect, reboot,  recommit and resolve!

From the elephants’ point of view, 2015 was a better year than recent years.  While poaching remains at a critical level, with more elephants dying than being born each year, progress was made on a number of fronts.  The price of ivory actually declined, while an increase in confiscations took more “product” out of the marketplace.  The coincidence of the two may appear counter intuitive (e.g., less product theoretically would raise prices) but perhaps demand for ivory finished products is finally declining and the supply chain just hasn’t caught up with that reality.  High profile campaigns by celebrities, NGOs and media outlets seem to have broken through the sound barrier, resulting in major political and policy efforts to shut down the trade in ivory.

Looking back, here are some month-by-month highlights of ivory politics:

January:  Release of “The Last Days of Ivory” short film and campaign by award-winning producer Kathryn Bigelow and WildAid

February:  China announces a one-year ban on the import of ivory carvings for one year

March:  Britain’s Prince William calls for an end to all trade in ivory during a visit to China

April:  Singer Billy Joel and the Wildlife Conservation Society release a new video to raise awareness of elephant poaching

May:  Chinese government announces that it plans to shut down all domestic trade in ivory

June:  DNA from elephant tusks reveals poaching routes

July: UN adopts resolution on wildlife trafficking

August:  U.S. announces unprecedented coalition to fight wildlife trafficking

September:  U.S. and China agree to halt ivory trade

October:  California passes ban on ivory sales

November:  African countries demand total ban on international ivory trade

December:  Hong Kong legislature passes motion calling for smuggling crackdown

Just one year ago, these collective accomplishments would have been unimaginable. However impressive though, they are but a beginning not an end.  2016 is the year to build upon 2015’s achievements and turn “plans” and “intentions” into real, meaningful action.  We talked the talk in 2015, now we have to walk the walk in 2016.  Put another way, we were given tools in 2015, we must use them in 2016.  Happy New Year to all!

Must the Past be Prologue?

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A timeless image — elephants crossing the grasslands, feeding, interacting, doing what they have done for millennia. They (and their distant, now extinct cousins) walked the earth long before the advent of homo sapiens. Some scientists believe that the vast areas they cleared in search of nutrition made it possible for our ancestors to come down from the trees and out of the caves and live in communities — a major advance that made us predators rather than prey.  Safety in numbers, stronger gene pools, development of sophisticated communication and planning skills.  Do we owe our alpha species status to the elephant?  Perhaps.  In any event, we seem to have returned the favor by coveting their ivory. And now we face the possibility that the earth we walk will one day be without elephants.

When facing a crisis, it is often insightful to look back at history to better understand what brought us to this point.  “A Brief History of the Elephant Ivory Trade”  released last week by Earth Touch News Network takes a look at the recent history of the ivory trade.  Featuring Dr. Paula Kahumbu, CEO of WildlifeDirect in Kenya, the report covers the dynamics since the 1970s. Well worth viewing.  But what about the longer perspective.  Just when did we get our insatiable appetite for ivory? And how has that appetite impacted the elephant, societies and world trade since then?

In John Frederick Walker’s Ivory’s Ghosts: The White Gold of History and the Fate of Elephants you can read all about it.  If the past is indeed prologue, then the future for the elephant is not very bright.  Ivory has seduced for thousands of years.  Elephants once ranged across all of Africa and from Syria to China. By 500 BCE, the lust for ivory in Egypt eliminated the African elephant populations along the Nile, and Syria’s Asian elephant herds had been eliminated. The list of cities and dynasties that sought ivory read like a who’s who of the ancient world: Carthage, Athens, Pompeii, Assyria, Babylon, Darius, Caligula, Alexander the Great, the Ptolemys, Julius Caeser. Diocletian fixed ivory prices. Pliny the Elder warned of elephant extinction in 77 CE.  Meanwhile in China, the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE) was trading with markets as far away as Rome.  Included in their caravans along the ancient Silk Route were intricately carved ivory objects. Arabs raided the Swahili coast of East Africa throughout the 7th – 14th centuries and included in their bounty slaves and ivory. Then came the era of European colonization. The race for real estate, slaves and ivory ended interior Africa’s relative isolation from the rest of the world.  The arrival of firearms made large-scale harvesting of ivory possible. No need to go on, read the book, and be astonished as to how ingrained the human craving for ivory is in our global society.

Sadly, we are fighting the awful weight of history in the quest to prize life over ivory’s appeal.  Walker in fact does not believe it is possible.  Because of this, he favors limited, legal sales of Africa’s stockpiles to a regulated market.  Watch “A Brief History of the Elephant Ivory Trade” for clear reasons why most experts disagree.  Walker’s book published in 2009; in the six short years since then, elephant populations have plummeted, and the failure of regulated sales is now established.

Once there were more elephants than homo sapiens.  Now, we are 7 billion and growing while the elephant population is perhaps 350,000 and shrinking.  What separates us from our pre-20th Century relatives is the knowledge that the resource is not unlimited. It’s time to reverse course and let the allure of ivory be relegated to the past.  Tick Tock. Tick Tock.

 

 

 

Cures for Cancers

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Did you know that elephants rarely get cancer?  For some time, scientists have been studying the incidence of cancer in various animals and have been baffled by the absence of cancer in African and Asian elephants.  Recently, two independent research efforts have uncovered the reason for this.  In simple terms, most species have a gene, TP53 (known as the “guardian of the genome”), which attacks damaged genes and keeps them from replicating.  Cancer is an example of damaged genes growing, causing tumors and infecting large areas of their host, human or otherwise.  Elephants, as it turns out, have 20 copies of this gene whereas humans have one copy.  Researchers believe that this unusual abundance of TP53 is responsible for the resistance elephants have to cancer.  Now, they are examining ways in which elephant DNA may be introduced into humans to help our species be more resistant to cancer.  For a more detailed description of this research, click here.  (The full scientific report is 028522.full.)

Cancer comes in many forms.  All of us are familiar with its devastating effect. The slaughter of hundreds of thousands of elephants for their ivory is a form of social cancer that has spread across all of Africa and parts of Asia.  This week’s carnage in Paris is symbolic of another virulent social cancer — terrorism — a disease which has destroyed not only lives but also the quality of life for millions of people.

We seem to be at a crossroads in our global society regarding how to value life.  Terrorists, be they criminal networks responsible for wildlife trafficking or radical malcontents responsible for the death and displacement of millions, have one thing in common — they value their own selfish interests over the value of life, human, elephant or otherwise.  The great majority of us want to find solutions, but feel helpless, frustrated and often discouraged.

Put in this context, the solution to elephant poaching is fairly straight forward:  end the demand for ivory trinkets and the terrorists (those who kill animals illegally are indeed terrorists) will go elsewhere to fund their greed and warped agendas.  Killing all the poachers won’t end it; arresting all the existing traffickers won’t end it.  Others will replace them as long as there is a market for it.  So ending this war could be almost bloodless.

The terrorism of ISIL, Al Qaeda and others is less straight forward and will almost necessarily be bloody.  But killing won’t erase the roots of the rise of this terrorism.  We need fundamental changes in economies, tolerance and political policy before we can even begin to combat this terrorism. This will take some time and very wise, brave and open minded leaders — in many countries — before Paris 11/13, US 9/11, and all the other unconscionable acts of terrorism become less and less likely.  Perhaps elephant DNA will find its way into our bloodstream first.  In any event, let us all pray for less violence against all species on this planet we share.

 

 

Giants’ Steps

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Did you know that the largest land mammal — the multi-ton elephant — can walk by you in such silence that you may not even know they are present unless you see them?  If they do break silence, it is with the sound of their eating process or the occasional trumpet or squeal to communicate.  You won’t hear their footstep in open grassland.  The padding on their large feet cushions their step to the degree that they are able to cross great distances in relative silence.

And so it goes sometimes with the biggest news concerning elephants — if you rely on the mainstream media for all your information, you may have missed hearing the very good news in the fight against the illegal ivory trade.

This past week, when Presidents Obama and Xi Jinjang met in Washington, DC, they agreed to halt the commercial ivory trade in the U.S. and China.  The official fact sheet on their meeting states:  “The United States and China, recognizing the importance and urgency of combating wildlife trafficking, commit to take positive measures to address this global challenge.  The United States and China commit to enact nearly complete bans on ivory import and export, including significant and timely restrictions on the import of ivory as hunting trophies, and to take significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory.  The two sides decided to further cooperate in joint training, technical exchanges, information sharing, and public education on combating wildlife trafficking, and enhance international law enforcement cooperation in this field.  The United States and China decided to cooperate with other nations in a comprehensive effort to combat wildlife trafficking. “

This is huge — a giant step by giant nations for a giant animal and megafauna species.  China and the United States are the two largest economies and markets for ivory in the world.  Their commitment to end the market for ivory is essential for ultimately realizing this goal. We can now move beyond finger pointing and on to collaboration.  Ending demand for ivory won’t happen overnight; and it won’t happen without tackling monumental obstacles such as the entrenched, criminal groups that sponsor poaching and the movement of ivory from Africa to the carving factories of Asia.  Nevertheless, the combined commitment of these two giant nations moves us much closer to overcoming these obstacles.

We must keep the pressure on and keep funding the programs that are making a meaningful difference on the ground in Africa and Asia where elephants still live in the wild.  To that end, here is a fun way to help:  take a safari!  The Bodhi Tree Foundation has worked with some leading safari operators to produce eight different safari itineraries.  Ten percent of the proceeds from each safari will be contributed an affiliated elephant conservation project each respective country.  The program, S.A.F.E (Safeguard the Future for Africa’s Elephants), sponsors projects in Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, Uganda, Tanzania, Cambodia and Thailand — all wildlife treasure chests where you can experience a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with elephants and scores of other wildlife.  If a safari isn’t in your near future, you can also contributed directly to these projects, which the Bodhi Tree Foundation has carefully vetted.  The projects focus on countering the forces elephants face today: poaching, habitat loss, human-elephant conflict and lack of vital rehabilitation and veterinary care.  Any amount you contribute will make a difference as 100% of your donation goes directly to the project of your choice.

Remember, baby steps are just as important as giant steps when taking on a challenge as big as this one!

Technology, Tusks and Terrorists

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The cover story of National Geographic’s September issue is entitled “Tracking Ivory.”  A companion piece,  “Warlords of Ivory,” aired last night on the National Geographic TV channel. Both cover the bold effort reporter Bryan Christy and National Geographic have undertaken to prove the link between ivory poaching and terrorism.  In a gripping report, we see the creation of a “fake” tusk impregnated with a GPS tracking device which Christy himself carries to Africa, the surreptitious  planting of the tusk in the northern, wartorn area of Congo and the subsequent path the tusk takes through Congo, CAR and Sudan until it reaches the nexus of LRA warlord Joseph Kony and the government of Sudan.

That ivory has been used to fund various terrorist groups is not news; however this evidence make indisputable the trade route between the elephant killing grounds of central Africa and the marketplace where two international criminals — Kony and al-Bashir — trade ivory for arms.  The human and wildlife devastation along the way is unspeakable.  Some of the sources interviewed by Christy are former soldiers of the Lords Resistance Army.  They have seen so much human destruction that they wonder why this western reporter is more interested in how many elephants were slaughtered.  The human body count and psychological damage is by orders of magnitude greater than that of the elephant community. The fact that the elephant population is moving towards extinction seems momentarily incidental.  The segment airs again on September 6 and I recommend you tune in.

 

Happy World Elephant Day!

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What have you done for the elephants today?

There is still time to act, if not today, then tomorrow or the next.  But don’t put it off for too long.  Your voice is needed now to continue the momentum that is building around the world.

Sign a petition sponsored by the groups listed below, write your legislators, join a cause, donate to one of the organizations listed to the right under “Bookmarks.”

Go to the following sites and make your voice heard:

WildAid

Wildlife Conservation Society

 African Wildlife Foundation

World Wildlife Foundation

iworry (The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust)

Save the Elephants

Care2

U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance

If we all act, and continue to support the work these organizations are doing, we will always have live elephants to celebrate! Otherwise, in ten years World Elephant Day may be an unhappy occasion to mourn extinction, something none of us want.

If you still need convincing, go to “In the News” for the latest on how serious the situation is and actions governments, NGOs and the private sector are taking.

 

World Elephant Day — Be a Part of the Action!

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Tomorrow, Wednesday, August 12, is World Elephant Day.

While for some of us, every day is Elephant Day, tomorrow provides an opportunity to rally around the many great efforts that are in place to reduce the demand for ivory, fight poaching and the illegal ivory trade.  Here are links to several sites where you can take meaningful action:  96 ElephantsThe David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, WildAid, and Care2.

Start with 96 Elephants, a Wildlife Conservation Society effort that is named after the number of African elephants that are killed every day.  Here is a copy of their press release, citing what they hope to accomplish tomorrow — and they are only one of the organizations taking action:

Timed to coincide with #WorldElephantDay on Wednesday, August 12, The Wildlife Conservation Society’s 96 Elephants Campaign is rallying Americans against the ivory trade and elephant poaching crisis and urging support of the proposed Federal ban on ivory sales.

On July 25, President Obama announced the pending release of the long-awaited 4(d) rule on African elephant ivory during his trip to Kenya. The text of the proposed rule is now published in the Federal Register and will be followed by a 60-day comment period that will conclude on September 28.

The 4(d) rule seeks to ban the sale or offer of sale of ivory in interstate or foreign commerce and delivery, receipt, carrying, transport or shipment of ivory for commercial purposes except for defined antiques and certain manufactured items containing de minimis quantities of ivory. Persons seeking to qualify for any exceptions from the ban must demonstrate they meet the criteria to qualify for the exceptions.

“The United States Government has shown true leadership in the fight against poachers that currently kill 96 elephants each day,” said John Calvelli, WCS Executive Vice President for Public Affairs and Director of the 96 Elephants Campaign. “It is now up to all of us on World Elephant Day to be part of this ‘stampede’ to support the strongest possible ivory ban. Together, we can help save these majestic animals from extinction.”

Beginning on August 12, #WorldElephantDay, through the conclusion of the public comment period, WCS and the 96 Elephants coalition will show a “STAMPede” of support for the Federal ban collecting letters of support and generating online and social media engagement. The goal will be to deliver a symbolic 96,000 messages to decision makers in Washington D.C.

Social media has made it easier than ever to communicate with decision makers on issues of importance, and it will play a large role in rallying support for the 4(d) rule. People are encouraged to take photos of themselves with drawings or signs in support of elephants and post their “elphies” to social media channels. They can also create a 6-second video of creative foot-stamping to symbolize “joining the STAMPede.” These simple acts of support should be shared using these hashtags: #JoinTheSTAMPede, #BeHerd, #96Elephants and #WorldElephantDay. Supporters can also #BeHerd by submitting their public comment in support of the ban at http://www.96elephants.org.

Through these social media engagements, the collective 96 Elephants coalition, which includes more than 120 AZA accredited zoos and aquariums, a network of business and non-profit partners, and millions of conservation advocates, will send a clear message to decision makers that only elephants should own ivory.

96 Elephants was named for the number of elephants gunned down each day for their ivory. The Wildlife Conservation Society launched the campaign in September 2013.

The 96 Elephants campaign:

Bolsters elephant protection in the wild by increasing support for park guards, intelligence networks, and government operations in the last great protected areas for elephants throughout the Congo Basin and East Africa.

Funds high-tech tools in the field ranging from drones and sophisticated remote cameras that track poachers in real-time, to specially trained sniffer dogs to find smuggled ivory in ports and trading hubs.

Engages the public through a series of actions including online petitions and letter writing campaigns enhanced through social media to support U.S. and state moratoria, increase funding, and spread the word about demand and consumption of ivory. 96 Elephants educates public audiences about the link between the purchase of ivory products and the elephant poaching crisis, and support global moratoria and other policies that protect elephants.

Be a part of the action — tomorrow and every day!