by Rachel Dale
Last year was the worst year for elephant poaching in Africa since the ivory trade was banned by CITES (convention on international trade in endangered species) in 1989, with this year not looking to be any better. Why? Well one factor could be the legal sale of ivory stockpiles that was permitted in 2008. Some argue this caused resurgence in demand for ivory in the Far East. This increased demand sent prices soaring, making the selling of illegal ivory an extremely lucrative trade. Sadly in order to obtain this illegal ivory you must first shoot its producer- thousands of wild elephants. Over 5000 tusks were confiscated in 2011 alone, and that is just the confiscated tusks. We don’t know how many slipped through the net.
Another factor is that the demand for ivory in countries such as China and Vietnam is still very high. Perhaps consumers don’t care that the lovely ivory ornament came from a living, intelligent being that had to be killed in order for the ornament to be made. Although I believe that people do care, but are unaware where it came from or simply do not make the connection between the living animal and the small artefact. Either way education must be used to tackle consumer demand.
Yao Ming with a two week old orphan.
Photo by Sean Dundas for Save the Elephants
Recently, in a highly publicised trip, former Chinese basketball player and NBA star Yao Ming visited Kenya as a Wild Aid ambassador. This organisation is focused on reducing the demand for endangered species products. Whilst in Kenya Yao covered every aspect of the problems facing elephants due to poaching. He saw elephants in the wild (with Save the Elephants), baby elephants that have been orphaned due to poaching (with the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust) and large stockpiles of confiscated tusks (with the Kenya Wildlife Service). The whole trip was documented by Yao on his blog and by the many organisations he worked with as well as being well covered by the international press. It is the public awareness like this, especially by Chinese role models, that will help educate the next generation on the importance of conservation.