For the Conservation Curious

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Ivory in China Knocked Back One Peg January 10, 2014

Yesterday the Chinese government took a big step in telling their citizen’s and the rest of the world what they think of ivory and the poachers that are illegally selling it – they crushed six tons of the white substance, valued at $10 million. While it is estimated that the government has a large, undisclosed amount of ivory still in its stockpile, wildlife groups hail the move as impressive and hopefully a sign of more good things to come.

This display of ivory destruction was the first of its kind for China, the world’s largest market for ivory. Illegally poached ivory travels through the black market to China, where it is sold to the growing middle and upper classes as art work. What does ivory poaching leave in its wake? Thousands of dead African elephants and sometimes the rangers paid to protect them. But with values up to $2,000 per kilogram, ivory fuels a thriving underground industry.

Will this very public display of ivory crushing deter those killing elephants for their tusks? I’m not so sure. As ivory items are destroyed, doesn’t that just reduce the supply of existing ivory, raising the price of the remaining ivory and incentivizing people to go get more? Until people can be convinced of the inhumane practice of killing elephants for their tusks (as well as killing tigers for their bones for “medicine” and other such practices) I think the illegal ivory trade will continue. And until there are strong enough laws and penalties for the poachers, and a stronger armed presence of elephant guards and park rangers, the poaching will continue.

What can we, so far from the situation, do to help? For one thing, don’t buy ivory. There are still places where you can buy ivory items – both legally and illegally – in the U.S. and elsewhere. Just say no! And if you are considering a trip to either Africa or China, think about where you are going and how you can make a point to bring up this issue. Stay in places that support tracking down and penalizing ivory poachers. Avoid places that openly flaunt the law. Share this knowledge with your friends and perhaps one day the African elephant (along with rhinos, tigers and so many other poached species) will be able to roam the savannahs free from the danger of a sniper scope.

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