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Wealth, not poverty, is the driver of elephant killings

The ivory trade is, once again, the biggest direct threat to the welfare and survival of elephants. Between now and the 16th Conference of the Parties in Bangkok in 2013, ElephantVoices will be working hard on messaging: We want the people who might be tempted to buy ivory to make the connection between their purchase and the deaths of individuals.

As Manchester University political scientist, Rosaleen Duffy, recently commented, "Rather than focusing on poverty as a driver of poaching, we need to look at wealth. Poachers are servicing markets in the wealthy world, in this case in East Asia".

Back in 1988 Joyce Poole and Cynthia Moss helped to initiate a highly successful media campaign, whose slogan was, "Only Elephants Should Wear Ivory". Joyce travelled to Japan and Hong Kong, then the primary markets for ivory, and spoke to ivory carvers and merchants and government authorities. The public awareness campaign and Kenya's highly publicised burning of 12 tons of ivory captured the world's attention. Demand for ivory plummeted and the market collapsed. The killing of elephants all but stopped - for a few years.

Due to rapidly increasing human populations everywhere, elephants have been pushed into smaller and smaller spaces, and it is certainly true that this has led to conflict between people and elephants in many areas. In the mid 1990s the media began putting out a simplified massage: "there are too many elephants". The indirect message was - the elephants have recovered, it's OK to buy ivory again. Many African countries began playing the "poverty card" claiming that elephants were exacerbating poverty and that the sale of ivory would help people. The result? A resurge in the demand for ivory. It began slowly and has gathered pace.

And now? It's wide-spread elephanticide once more. But this time there is a new and uneducated market. The explosion of wealth in China is a driving force behind the increased demand for ivory and the rising slaughter of elephants. And, with ivory available, there are willing buyers all over the world. This is why YOU can make a difference. It is not about stopping poachers in the bush, but about stopping buyers in the towns. We urge all of you to use your voice to help us to get the message out. Especially those of you with a network in China and Eastern Asia - help us by translating our posts into Chinese, Japanese. Use your own network to pass the message on; influence anyone who might be tempted to buy ivory, or who might have any say in how your country votes on elephants at CITES. We won a victory in Doha in March this year, but the struggle for elephants survival will continue.

Together our voices can put an end to the killing of elephants for their tusks.

The ivory trade - It's SO much more than numbers.......

Wildlife managers, conservationists, and those who argue for keeping a vibrant trade in ivory, like to talk numbers. How many tons of ivory can elephants produce through natural mortality? How much money can be made from the sale of ivory? How many tons are held in ivory stockpiles? How many elephants are killed to supply the illegal market? Are elephant numbers increasing or decreasing in this country or that?

But very few of these experts talk about what these numbers mean to the survival and well being of individual elephants. The welfare implications to these individual building block of societies are not even acknowledged as people, organisations and nations barter away lives at international conferences.

More than 1,5 tonnes of ivory shipped from Tanzania was recently seized in Hong Kong. DNA will confirm which populations were mined by the killers attempting to satisfy the growing Asian market. An editorial from the 11th September edition of the Tanzanian newspaper, The Citizen, remarks that 11.6 tons of the ivory seized over the last 18 months originated in Tanzania. The article calls on the government to take urgent measures to disassociate the country from trafficking networks.

Eleven and a half tons is only the tip of the iceberg. Smuggling occurs when there is a fair chance that contraband will reach its destination and figures suggest that only 10-15% of shipments are detected. The true figure is likely to be more like 116 tons.

One ton of ivory = 135 dead elephants
and much, much more...

  • Males with big tusks killed = skewed sex ratios
  • Elephant with big tusks killed = Loss of older, experienced members of society
  • Mothers killed = catastrophic for lifetime survival and well being of her calves
  • Matriarchs killed = compromised survival of remaining members
  • As these older, more experienced elephants killed = fabric of elephant society destroyed
  • Enormous suffering

Slide from our talk at symposium Compassionate Conservation, 2 Sept. 2010,
that many forget the enormous welfare implications behind the cold
figures related to the ivory trade.

Go directly to talk here.

But let's just stick to what we know - the 11.6 tons. How many lives does that represent? The average weight of tusks in trade is something like 3.7 kg. Some elephants have only one tusk so the standard is to use 1.8 tusks per elephant. Therefore, 11.6 tons is equivalent to some 1,742 elephants. But, if estimates are correct it could be ten times that - 17,000 deaths - just based on Tanzania. And we know that the killing is far worse in parts of central Africa.

The Domino Effect

The tusks of adult males are seven times the weight of those of adult females of the same age. So poachers start mining a population by killing adult males. The result? The sex ratio of poached populations are highly skewed toward females. Data show that populations being poached in Tanzania today are already highly skewed, which means that perhaps two thirds of the 1,742 (or if you want to extrapolate, 17,420) elephants who died were female. Let's use a round figure of 1,000 (or 10,000 for the extrapolators) adult females. What happened to the children of these mothers?

Elephant calves are heavily dependent upon their mothers. Calves under two die if their mothers die. Indeed up to the age of 8 or 9, being orphaned is catastrophic for lifetime survival and well-being. Most adult females have at least two offspring under the age of 9. So for each female who dies, you can count at least one calf death and frequently two. It would be safe to assume that the number of elephant deaths may double the figure represented by the seized tusks. The 11.6 tonnes is likely to represent the deaths of 2,500-3,000 elephants (or 25-30,000 elephants).

We may not know these individuals by name, we may not recognize their faces, their voices, their smell. But they had families - sons, daughters, mothers, grandmothers who remember them, who have suffered and continue to suffer. These individuals care what we are doing to their societies.

Do any of our policy and decision makers care? Do the ivory merchants and the ivory buyers care? Do you care?

The time for compassion is NOW

We believe that that time for change is now! There are too many people on our planet to continue to promote greed for the body parts of animals. We must begin to engender compassion for the other individuals who share our world.

Some telling headlines from recent media coverage you should read - you find these articles and many others here.

  • Demand from wealthy makes elephants unfair game
  • Tanzania: Ivory Seizure Wake-Up Call to Wildlife Officials
  • Hong Kong: Ivory tusks worth $10.85m seized
  • South Africa: Top parks official accused of poaching
  • Uganda: Elephants suffer as UWA top brass fight