The Beginning of the End

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Sunrise or sunset?  Beginning or end?  As one year comes to a close and another opens, it is natural to assess where we are and where we are going.

For the elephants, the end of 2016 comes with an announcement by China that it will close its ivory market in 2017. Here is the partial post from WildAid’s website:

The end of the world’s largest ivory market was announced today by the Chinese government as it released a detailed timetable for ending its legal ivory trade. Domestic ivory sales will be banned by the end of 2017 with the first batch of factories and traders to close their business by 31 March 2017.

Last year, President Xi Jinping made a public commitment to phasing-out the ivory trade, which may be falling out of favor with Chinese consumers. A recent survey by the conservation group Save the Elephants reported that ivory prices in eight mainland Chinese cities had fallen by half in a two-year period ending December 2015. Anecdotal evidence gathered by WildAid campaigners in China indicates prices may have decreased further this year: Market inquiries in May 2016 found raw ivory prices of around $450 to $900, representing a decrease of 57% to 78% compared with a2014 high of $2,100 per kilogram in mainland China. A ban was first proposed to the National People’s Congress by former NBA star, Yao Ming, who also led documentaries on ivory trade for state broadcaster CCTV in partnership with WildAid.

WildAid CEO Peter Knights said, “China’s exit from the ivory trade is the greatest single step that could be taken to reduce poaching for elephants. We thank President Xi for his leadership and congratulate the State Forestry Administration for this timely plan. We will continue to support their efforts through education and persuading consumers not to buy ivory.”

With China’s announcement, international attention is now shifting to Japan, which voted against all CITES proposals to protect elephants and has insisted its trade is not tainted by illegal ivory. However, a recent report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) found that the nation’s elephant tusk registration system widely allows for poached tusks smuggled from Africa to be sold legally in the domestic market.

While this won’t stop poaching overnight, it is the most significant step in dampening the global market for ivory to date.  We can only hope that the other Asian governments with significant ivory markets will follow suit.

2016 has been a landmark year for recognition of the devastating impact the demand for ivory has had on elephant populations.  Prior to the announcement by China that it would be closing its markets for ivory, the US adopted regulations to do the same in the US.  The first-ever, methodical, continent-wide count of elephants was completed, and  the results of The Great Elephant Census were announced at the end of August.  Confirming our worst suspicions, elephant populations had plummeted to approximately 350,000 in Africa, down 30% from 2007.  At the beginning of 1900, there were roughly 10 million elephants in Africa.

2017 could, therefore, be the watershed year for the African elephants.  On one hand, China’s move could inspire other countries to follow suit and we could truly see the evaporation of demand for ivory.  Conversely, the black market could be sufficiently established that the situation worsens, in that continued, illegal demand for ivory forces the prices even higher.  The former would reduce poaching; the latter, would accelerate the elimination of elephants from the African ecosystem.

Never has it been more important to advocate the end of ivory markets.  Any chance of having elephants in the wild for the next generation count on it.

As you make your New Year’s resolutions, please add supporting the end to any legal trade in elephant ivory to your list!

Happy New Years from Elephants Forever!

Living Dinosaurs

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Could elephants really become extinct in our lifetimes?  Media coverage is now referring to elephants as “living dinosaurs.”  An oxymoron? Not really. More of a prediction.

A grim future for elephants is suggested when we take a long term look at what has happened over the passed 600 years, using information from the recently released Great Elephant Census:

1500:  Around 26 million elephants are estimated to roam the African continent when Europeans began exploring there.

1900:  In 400 years, the population has been reduced to about 10 million due to aggressive trophy hunting and the ivory trade.  The US consumes 200 tons of ivory a year.

1950s:  250 elephants are killed each day to satisfy demand for ivory.

1979:  Elephants are listed as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act in the US; internationally, CITES is to regulate ivory trade. Ian Douglas Hamilton conducts first pan-African survey, estimating the elephant population at 1.3 million.

1989:  Elephant population halved over last decade with 600,000 remaining.  CITES lists the African elephant on Appendix I, creating a ban on the international trade of ivory.

1990s:  Elephant populations in East Africa begin to recover.

1999:  CITES approves a “one time” sale of ivory from Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe ivory stockpiles to Japan. A second sale to China and Japan is permitted in 2008.

2007:  CITES implement 9 year moratorium on ivory sales from stockpiles as the increasing demand for ivory is not satisfied by these sales and leads to dramatic increase in poaching.

2016:  Death rate is one elephant every 15 minutes. Great Elephant Census shows elephant populations at 352,000, down 30% from 2007.

The calculus of this population decline is unassailable.  We will not have healthy, sustainable elephant populations in the wild in our lifetimes if the demand for ivory is not shut down. And, yes, like the dinosaurs who once walked this earth, our present-day largest land mammal could also become extinct.

Thank you to the Great Elephant Census , a partnership between Paul Allen and Vulcan, who provided the funding, Elephants Without Borders, African Parks, Wildlife Conservation Society, TheNature Conservancy, Frankfurt Zoological Society and the IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group.

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