Customs officials in Hai Phong, a northern port city in Vietnam, seized nearly two tons of illegal elephant tusks, or around 4,000 pounds of ivory, last week. The tusks, en route from Malaysia to China, were stashed in bags of sea shells.
Asian male elephants can have tusks as long as African elephants’ tusks, but they are usually slimmer and lighter. Just try to imagine what two tons of tusks must look like. And then remember that there are probably at least a hundred Asian elephants lying dead, with their tusks cut out.
Tragically, this is just the latest instance in a series of reports of elephant poaching.
In 2009, authorities in Hai Phong confiscated nearly 7 tons of ivory smuggled from Tanzania in the country’s biggest such seizure.
Vietnam has in fact banned the hunting of the country’s dwindling population of elephants, but in both Vietnam and China elephant tusks and other body parts are prized for decoration, as talismans and jewelry, and for use in traditional medicine.
Even though the country outlawed the ivory trade in 1992, shops can still sell ivory dating from before the ban.
Elephants are found in Asia and Africa. On both continents they are classified as endangered according to the Red List put out by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The World Wildlife Fund estimates there are between 25,600 and 32,750 individual Asian elephants left in the wild, with the biggest population in India. The most recently identified subspecies, the Borneo ‘pygmy elephant,’ has been estimated to number 1,500 or fewer.
In this most recent case, reports of the incident did not give the value of the shipment, but last week a haul of 1,695 pounds of ivory tusks in Hong Kong had an estimated sale price of $1.49 million, according to the city’s customs officials.
The international trade in ivory has been essentially banned since 1989 after the population of African elephants dropped from millions in the mid-20th century to just 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.
According to Bloody Ivory:
For a while it seemed to be working, but since 1997, there have been sustained attempts by certain countries to weaken the ban. In 1999, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe were allowed an ‘experimental one-off sale’ of over 49,000kg of ivory to Japan. Then in 2002, a further one off-sale was approved, which finally took place in 2008 – and resulted in 105,000kg of ivory being shipped to China and Japan.
Today, levels of poaching and illegal trade are spiralling out of control once again. In many areas, rates of poaching are now the worst they have been since 1989. In 2009, over 20,000kg of ivory was seized by police and customs authorities worldwide and in 2011, just thirteen of the largest seizures amounted to over 23,000kg, breaking all records since the ivory ban.
Continuing this trend, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) reports that more than 25,000 elephants were poached in 2012.
With a $19 billion global black market in wildlife, the threat to elephants is once again reaching crisis level. If the poaching of elephants and the trade in illegal ivory is to be seriously addressed, it is crucial that there is a return to the full ban on the sale of ivory established in 1989.
If you agree, please sign our petition asking CITES to keep the ban on ivory and not to make the ivory trade legal again.
Photo Credit: Thinkstock