With a worldwide ban in place since 1989 on trade in ivory, why is it possible throughout Southeast Asia to buy religious icons, amulets and trinkets carved from contemporary African elephant tusk? Reports of the slaughter are almost too loathsome to read: herds of mothers and babies hunted by helicopter, downed by RPG’s and automatic weapons, with the calves encircled by their mothers desperate to protect them.
More than half of Africa’s elephants were killed for their tusks in the 1980’s. Today, the continent is again roiled in poaching. National Geographic maps and charts show the facts: hundreds of thousands of pounds of tusks from the African continent pouring annually into China, Thailand, Hong Kong, Thailand, Philippines, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and India.
Like blood diamonds and ill-gotten “conflict” minerals (the rare metals that help power cellphones and laptops), ivory is now a market commodity: it can be illegally traded to buy guns and ammo. Thousands of elephants in all four corners of Africa are today being poisoned, mowed down with rocket propelled grenades and automatic weapons by rebel outfits and poachers as a cash crop, so to speak, that travels by waiting cargo ship to an eager Asian market. Nat Geo video
Today “China is the epicenter of demand,” said Robert Hormats, a senior State Department official and recent panelist on the Diane Rehm Show. ”Without the demand from China, this would all but dry up.” In China, the new middle class are eager for ivory keepsakes; in the Philippines, demand is for religious carvings.
“Last year,” says The New York Times, “poaching levels in Africa were at their highest since international monitors began keeping detailed records in 2002. And 2011 broke the record…at 38.8 tons (equaling the tusks from more than 4,000 dead elephants).”
Goodbye Babar, the beloved little elephant, who in the 1930’s childhood literary classic escaped from the hunter that killed his mother and returned triumphant to become the King of his peaceable kingdom. When again will there be peace for Africa’s elephants ?Want to help?