Due to our investigations, we have exposed organised ivory trafficking networks in China, Laos, Malaysia, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Vietnam and Zambia that have been responsible for the large-scale destruction of elephant populations across Africa.
The paper, which appears in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, incorporates results from DNA testing of more than 4,000 African elephant tusks from 49 different ivory seizures made in 12 African nations over a 17-year period.
Malaysian national Teo Boon Ching has been involved in the wildlife trade for two decades with business links in Guangzhou, China and Bangkok, Thailand. He operates a transportation service for illicit wildlife products from Johor in Malaysia on to other destinations including Laos and China. He was arrested in Thailand in March 2015 along with his Thai partner Sririchai Sridanont for possession of 135kg of African elephant ivory. Despite his arrest he evaded prosecution and continues his wildlife smuggling exploits. He is implicated in a recent rhino horn seizure in August 2018.
Humans have coveted ivory for thousands of years, and demand eventually pushed elephants to the brink. International trade in their tusks is now banned, but a newer product on the global market could be fuelling the flames for elephants: mammoth tusks.
Using data from a previous DNA study by coauthor Samuel Wasser, the team also was able to tell where the elephants had lived. Through this, they discovered that tusks from East Africa were moving faster than those from other regions. This, said Uno, could be because East African elephants are exposed in open savannahs, where they can be shot down with abandon and the ivory shipped out quickly. In other regions, they dwell in dense forests, where they are harder to harvest en masse.
In those and other nations, ivory is a way to flaunt social rank and wealth by owning jewelry, ornaments and exquisite sculptures fashioned from ivory. Chinese medicine also touts ground ivory for curing everything from epilepsy to sore throats.
THE twenty-eight countries most responsible for the deaths of African elephants have been revealed in a new report, but other major offenders avoided censure as they failed to provide information or seize any ivory.
South Africa's claim that its elephants were well managed was not seriously challenged. However, its role in the illegal ivory trade and slaughter of elephants in neighbouring countries was exposed in numerous news articles of the time, as part of its policy of destabilisation of its neighbours. 95% of South Africa's elephants were found in Kruger National Park which was partly run by the South African Defence Force (SADF) which trained, supplied and equipped the rebel Mozambique army RENAMO. RENAMO was heavily implicated in large-scale ivory poaching to finance its army.
Zimbabwe had embraced "sustainable" use policies of its wildlife, seen by some governments and the WWF as a pattern for future conservation. Conservationists and biologists hailed Zimbabwe's Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) as a template for community empowerment in conservation. The failure to prevent the Appendix One listing through CITES came as a blow to this movement. Zimbabwe may have made the career of some biologists, but it was not honest with its claims. The government argued the ivory trade would fund conservation efforts, but revenues were instead returned to the central treasury. Its elephant census was accused of double counting elephants crossing its border with Botswana by building artificial waterholes. The ivory trade was also wildly out of control within its borders, with Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) involvement in poaching in Gonarezhou National Park and other areas. More sinister was the alleged murder of a string of whistle-blowers, including a Capt. Nleya, who claimed the ZNA was involved in rhinoceros and elephant poaching in Mozambique. Nleya was found hanged at his army barracks near Hwange National Park. The death was reported as suicide by the army, but declared a murder by a magistrate. Nleya's widow was reportedly later threatened by anonymous telephone calls.
In 2018, a study by Avaaz sponsored by Oxford University indicated that legal antique ivory trading in the European Union continues to fuel the poaching of elephants. It is believed that a legal loophole that allows for the trading of old ivory masks the sale of items made of ivory from more recently killed elephants.
In the past 10 years record numbers of African elephants (Loxodonta africana) have been killed for their ivory tusks. Although the trading of ivory obtained after 1989 is illegal, researchers estimate in the past century the African elephant population has declined by more than 95% due to poachers increasing desire for their tusks. It is estimated that between 30,000-50,000 elephants are killed annually, leaving their species vulnerable to extinction within the next 50 years. The country of China is the largest importer of ivory in the world, largely due to the historical value it holds with the population there. Currently, retailers in China are licensed to sell ivory that was acquired before the year 1989. Unfortunately, carbon dating has revealed that 90% of the product currently being traded and served was obtained in the past 3 years. China is now beginning to take steps to restrict and eventually ban the trade with the hopes of restoring the African elephant population. As the attention of the masses has begun to focus on the illegal poaching of African elephants and the repercussions of these actions, there has been an increase in the number of political discussions being had regarding the issue. Many countries in Africa, along with others throughout the world have begun initiating stronger legal and military actions to combat the poaching of elephants in their counties. Perhaps most notably China has declared they will ban the domestic trade of ivory by the end of 2017. Researchers are already anticipating a decrease in the number of elephants poached due to the increased attention and prosecution being implemented. As each additional country potentiates its actions towards those involved in illegal ivory trading, individuals are beginning to evaluate the severity of the situation and uncertain future of the African elephants.
Figure 3 displays the major countries involved in the trading ivory. Africa is currently the major departure site, specifically the countries or Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa. From 2009-2011 the amount of ivory seized leaving Kenya increased from 1 ton to 8 tons, while the amount seized in Tanzania dropped from approximately 12 tons to 7 tons. China and Thailand are the most popular destinations due to the high levels of monetary and historical value that ivory holds.13 However, despite the increase in ivory exportation from Africa the seizures of ivory in the designation countries has remained delicately constants.12 China is currently working to put an end to the illegal trade in the year 2017.8 These findings help government officials focus in on specific areas throughout the world and make the eradication of the ivory trade more feasible. Figure 3: Ivory Trade Route. Ivory is being transported from Eastern Africa to China and Thailand via Malaysia. Philippines, and Vietnam. Figure from 3.
Recent studies have been utilizing the process of Carbon-14 dating to determine the year of death for various populations of elephants.5 The Carbon-14 dating process works by comparing the ratio of Carbon-14:Carbon 12 at the time that has passed since the death.6 Currently, the law states that the sale of ivory from elephants killed after 1989 is illegal.8 The Carbon-14 dating process has dated various populations of elephant ivory and found that approximately 90% of ivory involved in the trade today is derived from elephants killed in the last 3 years.5 These studies show that the majority of ivory being traded is illegal and a need for reform in regards to the trading of ivory is needed.
Recent studies have demonstrated that the idea of a sustainable legal ivory is nearly impossible due to the slow rate at which elephants grow and reproduce.4 Essentially, the demand for ivory throughout the world exceeds what elephants would be able to produce. In response to this and other studies, countries are beginning to take drastic steps to end the trading of virus. Most notably, the Chinese government announced in December of 2016 that efforts will be put into place to eradicate the trading of ivory by the end of 2017.7 Current legislature bans the trading of ivory from elephants killed after 1989, unfortunately it is incredibly difficult to distinguish between legal and illegal ivory. China plans to revoke licensure from its 130 licensed retail shops, many before the middle of the year.2 The goal of this effort is to put an end to the decline in the African elephant population due to illegal poaching. The image below shows government stockpiles being destroyed to draw attention to the increasing desire to end trade.4
The recent statements made by China and various other countries voicing their determination to end the trade of ivory are helping to brighten the future for African elephants. The hope it that with the trading of ivory becoming illegal and better regulations a decline in the number of elephants poached each year will occur and the population will begin to slowly rebuild. 2b1af7f3a8