The Global Trade
Did you know that across the world, there are less than 600,000 elephants? That includes those in zoos and in the wild, both in Africa and Asia. All over the place, elephants are dying, and they have been for decades. While it's all over international news today, no one paid any attention to the drastic situation until the imminent threat of the extinction of elephants became a realistic fear.
Thankfully, progress is now being made to stop the ivory trade, which takes out 33,000 African elephants each year. But this trade is far from over. In fact, poaching has become such a lucrative and organized crime that it's going to take a lot of work to eliminate it.
So in this second installment on poaching, let's look at where poaching happens. It seems like it takes place so far away from our lives here in Midwest America, but we can still feel its affects. So let's spend this blog looking at the different settings of the ivory trade.
The map above shows the African nations that have been affected by poaching. Green flags provide information on poaching activity in that nation, red flags denote poaching incidents, gray show ivory seizures and black markers show several incidents (the number tells how many). About two months ago the ivory trade made headlines with the "Ivory Queen" of one of China's largest smuggling rings was arrested in Tanzania.
If you look closely, there are few nations that don't wear a marker. This should give you some idea of the scope of poaching on this continent alone. Economically speaking, poaching has hurt Tanzania's economy by threatening it's vital tourist trade. Many nations face this problem, a serious issue since most African nations collect most of their income from international tourists, who come to see elephants, among other animals killed by poaching.
"All regions of the African continent are affected by poaching and illegal trade - ivory seized from illegal trade has been identified as originating from countries from all four regions, East, West, Central and Southern Africa."
After the elephants have been killed and their tusks cut off, the ivory tusks are then shipped off to the black markets in another nation. Most of the time this means a boat or plane ride to Asia, where the world's largest ivory market lies.
After the tusks have been smuggled into Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and China (often with the help of corrupt officials), they are brought to factories. It is here that these tusks are carved into trinkets and decorations for sale on the general market.
Because it's currently hard to prove the date of ivory products, vendors are able to sell illegal ivory trinkets next to products made of legal pre-1989 ivory. Thus, when the government comes to investigate the store, shop owners are able to pass off illegal ivory easily and escape prosecution.
"Hong Kong has been the gateway through which the tusks of hundreds of thousands of poached elephants have been laundered."
Europe and the U.S.
While the largest ivory market lies in China, the U.S. is the second-largest consumer of ivory worldwide. While some of this ivory lies in the form of antique and collectibles, the American demand for ivory has become a national concern, as President Obama has addressed.
Obama decided to tighten the U.S.'s ivory trade, which is already complex due to unequal enforcement and complicated American rules. The main difference between the newest policy change and the old rules is that the burden of proof has switched from the federal government to the ivory owner.
Basically, if you own a piece of ivory, you must prove that it is legal, instead of the government presenting evidence that it's illegal.
But it's not just the federal government fighting the ivory trade. Individual states have joined the fight as New York, New Jersey, California and Washington passed laws against the commercial and interstate trade of ivory.
Back in 2013, the federal government crushed almost 6 tons of ivory in a public demonstration of its fight against the international trade.
Despite all these changes, however, ivory continues to be smuggled and sold throughout America and Europe, speaking of a trade that's endured for centuries and will take many more years to eliminate.
Kerry Skiff is a conservation advocate and recent journalism graduate of Northern Kentucky University. She follows the ivory trade around the world, and uses her voice to educate Americans about their role in animal conservation.