By Camilla Swift
It has taken a while, but finally the world appears to be taking the illegal trade in ivory seriously. Why now? Reports of a ‘terror trail’ that links al-Shabaab and black-market ivory. The Elephant Action League investigated the ivory trail into Somalia, and found that ivory, or ‘white gold’, is ‘one of the lifelines of al-Shabaab’. EAL found that according to sources within the militant group, ‘between one to three tons of ivory, fetching a price of roughly $200 per kilo, pass through the ports in southern Somalia every month’. Al-Shabaab’s monthly income from ivory is – according to EAL – between $200,000 and $600,000.
On Thursday, Obama organised for a six ton hoard of ivory confiscated in the US, worth millions of dollars, to be crushed in front of ‘visiting dignitaries’ in Colorado in bid to make a stand against the illegal ivory trade. It’s a symbolic move for a country that has the second-largest market for ivory in the world, but opponents to the crush argued that the destruction will only push ivory prices higher.
Earlier this year, our Wild Life columnist, Aidan Hartley, expressed frustration at our inability to change people’s attitude to ivory trading – particularly in the Far East.
‘Our African governments are ineffectual or corrupt or both, allowing traders to operate almost with impunity. And the buyers are Chinese, millions of them, who believe ivory will bring them luck, and that removing tusks will not kill an elephant any more than sheering a fleece will cause the death of a sheep. Whatever we have been doing up to this point has failed. Celebrity conservationists in their donated safari vehicles have failed. Journalists like me have failed.’
More than 30,000 elephants were killed last year for their tusks – almost 100 per day. This is the highest figure since the ivory trade was banned in 1989. And it’s not just elephants that are suffering from the illegal trade. Rhino are also poached for their horns, which are sold in China and other parts of Asia as cures for everything from cancer to food poisoning and smallpox.
Last year, 668 rhino were killed across Africa, with the number this year expected to be nearer to 1,000. More....