By Tara D. Sonenshine
Tusks up–in some parts of the world that means good luck; a saying full of irony considering the unfortunate plight of elephants today. Depending on your culture, elephants also convey strength, power, wisdom and patience. Whether in India, Africa or other lands, they are important and meaningful—and today they are receiving the global attention they deserve.
This month President Obama issued an executive order targeting the illegal trafficking of elephant tusks (and those of rhino horns and other products) promising a $10 million effort and a national presidential task force to increase anti-poaching efforts. Building on what former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began in 2012 as a global crackdown on illicit trade of wildlife, the President vowed to rein in the growing black market for illegal animal products, which experts estimate has reached an annual business of 7-10 billion dollars.
The threat posed by this lucrative trade is not only environmental. It is a security and counterterrorism issue for the United States and many other countries. There is mounting evidence of links between wildlife crime syndicates and terror groups, with traffickers bankrolling rebels and their militias, conducting military-style assaults on elephants and terrorists funding their violent agenda through the burgeoning market for luxury goods, religious articles, carvings and medicines.
The White House action came as new scientific research opens major possibilities for determining the age of elephant tusks—a key part of the poaching puzzle. Reported by the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, the research on tracking the age of ivory uses atmospheric nuclear weapons testing residue from the 1950s and 1960s to connect the dots on the age of elephant tusks. In what is akin to the DNA breakthrough on crime solving, this new research could help law enforcement and other agencies determine when the killing of an elephants occurred—a tool in citing violations of the 1989 ban on African elephant killing for tusks. More....