Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Proposed Ivory Ban

As I posted several months ago, the proposed language for a ban on ivory is being circulated through the federal process, and will appear later this year for a vote.  It is important for those affected by this legislation to have their voices heard at this time.

I have noted that several countries, including the US and China, have publicly destroyed tons of illegal ivory, in an effort to demonstrate that trafficking in this material will not be tolerated.  I support this action, to a certain degree, but wonder about its effectiveness.

It seems to me that, like international drug trade, the poaching of ivory and wholesale killing of elephants will continue, regardless of laws, as long as there is a black market.  Thus, the destruction of confiscated ivory will have little effect on eliminating the problem.

I have noted that, for the past 50 years, government agents have seized drugs and destroyed them, with no real damage to the drug trade.  Drug dealer just consider the seizure of their inventory and cash as a part of the business.  It really doesn't stop them.

There is a simple solution, which is why it probably hasn't been considered.  That solution is to stop the poachers where they are working.  Stop them in the fields where the elephants are living.  Put our energies into making it dangerous for the poachers to practice their horrible trade.

Today the New York Times ran an editorial in support of the proposed ban.  The headline was "Banning Ivory Sales in America."  The lead paragraph states that 30,000 to 35,000 elephants are killed by poachers every year.  This is unacceptable.  How many poachers are arrested each year?  The editorial doesn't mention that figure.  How much money is allocated for elephant protection?  Again, no indication of the financial commitment to protect these creatures.

The language being considered will prohibit "all commercial imports of African elephant ivory, including antiques," and it will "prohibit exports except for certified antiques.  Sales of elephant ivory across state lines will be prohibited, unless the ivory is demonstrably more than 100 years old.  And ivory sales will be prohibited within a state unless the seller can demonstrate that the ivory was lawfully imported before 1900." "People can still own ivory and pass heirlooms to descendants."

The editorial continues, suggesting that those who make their living in this evil trade will probably not worry too much about forging documents, so that makes it obvious that this legislation will not be effective, except to limit legitimate transactions.

This is a very poor solution for a very serious problem.


George Rountree said...

If the ivory were sold, rather than destroyed, that additional supply in the market would reduce the black market price and the proceeds could be used for elephant protection. By burning the ivory, the supply is reduced and the black market price goes up leading to more poaching and no money for protection. That result is typical of most efforts of this type.

W. Patrick Edwards said...


You are absolutely correct in your analysis. It is sad that legislators do not approach the solution to these problems with basic common sense. Politics tend to drive the discussion, and political decisions are made for a different set of priorities.

I hesitate to say exactly what I think should be done, as I am essentially a pacifist. However, suffice it to say that if the poachers were treated in the same manner as they treat the elephants, it would cause them to rethink their activity.

Tico Vogt said...

Here is an organization you should know about:


W. Patrick Edwards said...

Thank you, Tico, for that link. I know it doesn't work directly from the comments post, but I encourage all who read this to visit biglife.org and support their efforts.

Their action represents the best possible solution to the wholesale elimination of wildlife across Africa. Only when potential poachers become educated or it becomes dangerous for them to continue their killing will this problem be mitigated.

Unfortunately, actions taken in state and federal governments do not really mean much to poachers sneaking around with guns in the wild.

Please support biglife.org. Tell our legislators to support them as well.

Renewable Community Power said...

I was listening to an interview on the radio just the other day where the speaker said that over the last 10 years in Africa 1000 rangers had been killed fighting poachers! It seems the only way to protect both the animals and the rangers is to massively increase the numbers of rangers (and in some countries the military guards animals) so that the poachers simply don't have a chance.

The problem extends to other animals like lions, which have had a huge drop in numbers in the last few years alone. So I agree - banning antiques with ivory simply won't work; the solution has to be protecting the animals on the ground first.

W. Patrick Edwards said...

At the same time, we need to protect the sea turtles from fishermen and oil pollution. And we need to protect the rosewood trees in the jungle of Brazil.

Just look at the satellite images of the destruction of forest in South America over the past decade. When you study the "fringe" effect of clear cutting native forests, you realize that it is a serious problem.

I'm not even talking about polar bears...

Unfortunately, our global priorities are all messed up.

I appreciate your feedback on this topic.

Unknown said...

I agree Patrick. Part of the resolution would be to poach the poachers. Unfortunately many of these countries governments are as corrupt as the poachers. Money rules. It is similar to sea turtle eggs in Costa Rica. The elephants need to be protected in the field with more force than the poachers have. You have to make it too dangerous to poach.