By Oliver Payne
Following publication of the Blood Ivory/Ivory Worship story by Bryan Christy in National Geographic last October, Steven Broad of TRAFFIC wrote the following letter. Owing to space constraints in the magazine, it was impossible to publish Mr. Broad’s letter and Mr. Christy’s response in full. In the interests of furthering the discussion about the illegal elephant ivory trade, we’re posting the correspondence here.
“Blood Ivory” by Bryan Christy (National Geographic Magazine, October 2012) amplifies two major conclusions of the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS): the illicit ivory trade is escalating and that China is the main driver. But the article gives the false impression that this ivory trade monitoring tool, operated by TRAFFIC on behalf of Parties to CITES, is a problem, rather than a solution. Indeed, for more than 20 years ETIS has helped illuminate the murky world of illegal ivory trafficking. Even the key statement in the opening paragraph—seizures of illegal ivory are at their highest level in years—is made possible thanks to the long-term, evidence-based analysis of ETIS.
Regrettably, the writer fundamentally misunderstands the design and analytical methods of ETIS. With seizure data, “what you see is what you get”, he seems to argue, not appreciating that the rigorous analysis to adjust for inherent bias allows us to “see through the raw data” and produce a robust contemporary portrait of the illegal trade. Further the writer implies that if a country does not provide ivory data, they duck notice or, alternatively, if they make lots of little seizures, they also get a reprieve. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In 2002, ETIS first identified China as the main driver of the illegal ivory trade—at a time when the world’s focus was still on Japan, and the number of ivory seizures involving China within the database stood at just 17 records. The article focuses on the Philippines, Thailand and China, all countries first indentified as significant players in the global ivory trade thanks to analysis from ETIS. Thailand, for example, has consistently rated as one of the top offenders where illegal ivory trade is permitted to flourish. Inexplicably, the article considers TRAFFIC’s advice to Thailand to take law enforcement action against the country’s retail ivory market as simply a move to “game ETIS” rather than deliver a blow to illegal trade in ivory. More....