Global Activity on Banning Ivory and Rhino Horn:

EU Denies Ban on Ivory Trade as California and Hawaii Solidify Theirs

by Valerie Kosheleff, MSc     July 11, 2016

The last month was marked by two large triumphs in the struggle to end the ivory and rhino horn trade, albeit not without much criticism from those who still own legally-acquired ivory that is now devalued property.  California implemented its new law AB 96 ­— a Bill to close the loophole on the sale of rhino horn and ivory from seven species, and Hawaii passed Act 125 of the same ilk.

For many years the general consensus has been that 30% of all recently-poached elephant ivory was being smuggled into the U.S. for resale predominantly through New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Hawaii.  Although Save A Horny Friend / Save The Wild supported California’s Bill by collecting signatures in 2015, we did not agree on all parts of this Bill, and see similar concern coming from the European Union this week too.

While the Great Elephant Census continues across Africa through aerial surveillance, it is clear that many areas have suffered tremendous devastation of their populations, some having lost 50-60% in the last few years.  Still, the European Union shocked many African nations with its recent decision to not follow in United States’ footsteps to impose a complete ban on the sale of ivory.  The explanation, like all wildlife management decisions, is multifaceted, often complex but important to understand.

When and What to Ban – Elephant, Warthog, Hippo, Mammoth?

From an economic perspective, the European Union’s position centers mostly around rewarding — with the possibility of continued international trade — those nations who have successfully grown their elephant populations with the possibility of continued international trade.  Another relevant announcement last week came from Zambia — home to half the world’s 80,000 hippos. With much consternation from animal rights’ groups, Zambia plans to cull 2000 hippos over the next five years in its South Luangwa National Park due to overpopulation, fear of infecting humans with anthrax, and draught-influenced low-water levels. This cull is expected to engage hunters, who willingly pay large sums for hippo trophies, in turn rewarding the Parks for successfully protecting their wildlife.

Ironically, California’s recent ivory ban also includes prohibiting the sale of hippopotamus, along with warthog, walrus, narwhal, mammoth and mastodon teeth. However, warthog and walrus populations are estimated at 250,000 each, considered “not threatened,” and in fact stable due to the short breading cycle of warthogs and the inaccessibility of walrus, yet are feared to become the next source of ivory due to elephant scarcity.  However, at approximately the same population as walrus and warthog, African elephants are considered threatened and often reported in the news as “being exterminated” due to the current spitfire rates of being poached combined with their complex and long lifespans.

However, the biologic perspective of continued culling or hunting of elephants reveals problems with artificial selection and cultural adaptation — most large-tusked elephants were wiped out decades ago leaving future generations with only small or no natural defense armaments.  Down from 10 million elephants in 1900, we are ever more concerned by the poaching rate as these animals’ culture is so fragile and their importance to biodiversity so high.  Another recent elephant study this month shows a cultural shift taking place in elephant herds as matriarchs are poached and their young daughters fill their shoes, albeit with very high stress levels detected from dung samples.  Major behavior change due to stress has been seen with a mega-herd of 550 elephants in Angola. Thus, considerations need to be made for each species as well as their specific habitats, weighing both the importance of maintaining high biodiversity in all areas along with economic reward for host countries.

The Conundrum of Mammoth and Mastodon

Although we don't agree with every point of California’s AB 96, in general this is a win for the cause, although in the interest of remaining productive, reasonable environmentalists, we are disappointed that mammoth and mastodon were included in the Bill — these species have been extinct for over 10,000 years and have tusks that are distinctly different from elephant ivory, namely the fossilized outside, as well as the Schreger Lines.  Yes, some pieces of ivory we found in shops in San Francisco clearly were scratched and painted to look like the fossilized outside of a mammoth tusk, thus implying great likelihood they are from recently-poached elephants. Still, the actual antique pieces of carved mammoth are both gorgeous and precious, and should not be taken off the market, especially as Siberia’s melting tundra exposes tons of mammoth tusks desired by traders around the world. Environmentalists must walk a fine line to avoid separating themselves from those who want to use nature’s products, goods and services. We must be vigilant about focusing on the issues where we will actually make a positive impact and where the most devastation takes place. 

Challenge to You

How can each of us contribute to freedom from poverty as well as freedom from having our natural heritage and biodiversity stolen from us by a greedy few? What difference can you make in the world?  Tightening international trade laws may seem to be a crucial step, but if there aren’t enough enforcement officers or funds, and if laws remove financial support for those who actually live with the animals, little will be accomplished.  In truth, by prioritizing action as well as education on the importance of all biodiversity, we can begin to make a difference with wildlife conservation.  Imagine a world where biodiversity, be it whales, macaws, leopards and even frogs, were revered for their presence and contributions to the health of this planet?

People protest the hunting and trade of wildlife parts, but if they won’t fund the activities that are required to protect these animals, we can’t expect these species to survive. There are 7 billion humans on this planet who not only compete with each other, but have an innate drive to take the resources they see in wildlife. In the end, you care about wildlife?  You have income?  Please continue to support our cause to promote and protect biodiversity, with a focus on our majestic rhinos and elephants by making a generous tax-deductible donation to our cause today.