By Illar Muul
The October 2012 issue of National Geographic Magazine presents a detailed analysis of the consequences of the illegal ivory trade. As a former recipient of National Geographic research funding, I am most concerned about conservation of endangered species. The information outlined in the article is detailed and devastating. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 2011 estimated that illegal hunting of elephants exceeded 25,000 per year (pg54). The revenues involved in illegal trade in 2011 in one shipment from Africa to Thailand alone were valued at $3million (or $12,146 per tusk) (pg45). Yet, periodic legal sales of ivory have brought far less (about $740 per tusk in 2008) (pg60).
The author presents detailed and graphic data on the problems both in Africa and Asia, and interviews with members of CITES, as well as, people involved in illegal ivory trade.
Page 50-51 shows burning of 5.5 tons of smuggled and confiscated ivory in Kenya in 2011 (worth about half million dollars, based on legal sales). The September 1989 issue of LIFE Magazine carried a similar photo from Kenya of 12 tons of ivory being burned at the orders of President Daniel arap Moi in order to call the world attention to the illegal hunting of elephants and to reduce the demand for ivory products. The LIFE Magazine pointed out that since 1970 the numbers of elephants had been reduced from 120,000 to 17,000 in 1989 (in Kenya). President Bush, Sr announced a U.S. ban on ivory imports in 1989. Internationally, CITES banned ivory trade among signatory countries. In the years prior to the ban in 1989, 600,000 elephants were “lost”, according to a CITES statistician.
However, since the ban on legal trade the price of ivory increased 20 fold compared with prices achieved in legal sales in 2008 (pg 61), which were sanctioned to reduce demand (profits) for illegal ivory. Clearly, the strategy of the past decades has not worked and the demand for ivory products has not subsided. The high prices paid in the illegal market provide a strong incentive for a continued slaughter. More....