Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

African carnage -- 1 year's seized ivory likely came from 23,000 elephants

27.02.2007
African elephants are being slaughtered for their ivory at a rate unprecedented since an international convention banning ivory trade took effect in 1989, a University of Washington biologist says.

The problem is so serious that the giant creatures might be on the path to extinction unless western nations reinstate strong enforcement efforts that all but halted black-market ivory trade in the four years immediately after the ban was enacted, said Samuel Wasser, director of the UW Center for Conservation Biology. He is the lead author of a paper detailing the problem published the week of Feb. 26 in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and he argues the continued loss of elephants will have serious consequences.

"Elephants are majestic animals and are not trivial to the ecosystem. They are a keystone species and taking them out significantly alters the habitat," he said. "It has ripple effects on lots of different species."

For the year ending in August 2006, authorities seized more than 23,400 kilograms, or nearly 24 tons, of contraband ivory, Wasser said. But the paper notes it is commonly assumed that customs agents typically detect only about 10 percent of contraband, so the actual amount of poached ivory probably is closer to 234,000 kilograms. That means more than 23,000 elephants, or about 5 percent of Africa's total population, likely were killed for that amount of ivory.

China's burgeoning economy is a major force driving the black-market ivory trade, escalating prices and attracting organized crime, Wasser said. In 1989 a kilogram of high-quality ivory sold for $100 on the black market. That rose to $200 in 2004 but by last year had ballooned to $750 per kilogram.

"If it really is organized crime that's driving this, then the only hope we have of stopping it is to stop the ivory at the source, to not let it into the international market. Because once it's in the international market, the trade is very hard to stop," Wasser said.

He and colleagues at the UW are working with other scientists and law enforcement agencies, primarily Interpol, to track the source of poached ivory. In June 2002 authorities in Singapore seized a 20-foot container packed with 6.5 tons of contraband ivory bound for the Far East from Malawi. It was the second-largest seizure of contraband ivory on record, the largest since the 1989 ban took effect, and represented ivory from 3,000 to 6,500 poached elephants. Authorities assumed the ivory had been collected from many different places, especially from forest elephants, but the assumption proved to be incorrect.

Over several years, Wasser and his colleagues have collected genetic information from a variety of populations by sampling tissue and dung from known populations, then compiled the information into a DNA-based map showing genetic differences between elephant populations. Using that information, the scientists grouped the tusks by common characteristics and then sampled randomly from those groups. They examined 67 tusks from the 532 seized in Singapore and showed that the ivory came from elephants on Africa's broad savannahs, not in forests. Further testing showed the ivory came from a small area of southern Africa, most likely centered on Zambia. Law enforcement agencies have identified many participants in the poaching, yet not one person has been prosecuted, Wasser said.

The tusks in the seized shipment weighed an average of 11 kilograms apiece, more than twice the weight normally seen in the market, indicating they came from a large number of older elephants. The shipment also contained 42,000 hankos, small blocks of solid ivory used to make signature stamps, or chops, that are widely used in the Far East, particularly in China and Japan.

Wasser noted that shortly before the seizure, Zambia had petitioned for permission to sell its ivory stockpiles internationally, stockpiles that were supposed to have existed before the international ban took effect in 1989. But the application said only 135 elephants were known to have been killed illegally in Zambia in the previous 10 years, far fewer than would have had to be slaughtered to produce the ivory in just the single seizure in 2002.

The paper's co-authors are Matthew Stephens, formerly of the UW and now at the University of Chicago; Celia Mailand and Rebecca Booth of the UW; Benezeth Mutayoba of the Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania; Emily Kisamo of the Lusaka Agreement Task Force in Kenya; and Bill Clark of the Interpol Working Group on Wildlife Crime and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. The work was funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service African Elephant Conservation Fund, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Center for Conservation Biology.

The authors wonder how a poor nation such as Zambia, with only slight international assistance, can fend off organized criminals fueled by the booming Far East economy, and they argue that Western nations must resume efforts to halt ivory trafficking. They note that western nations contributed heavily to enforcement efforts when the international ban took effect in 1989, and in the next four years poaching was virtually eliminated. But the success apparently left a sense that the problem was solved and the nations withdrew their funding.

Wasser and colleagues want to see reinstatement of strong enforcement, and also want to see education programs established to teach people in Africa to better manage their wildlife and persuade people in Asia not to use ivory, much of which is obtained illegally.

"If people really realized what is happening they would be ashamed to be part of the crisis," he said. "We don't want to spend our time catching criminals, we want to stop the crime from happening. That's the most effective enforcement you can do."

Vince Stricherz | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.washington.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Value from wastewater
16.08.2017 | Hochschule Landshut

nachricht Species Richness – a false friend? Scientists want to improve biodiversity assessments
01.08.2017 | Carl von Ossietzky-Universität Oldenburg

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Gold shines through properties of nano biosensors

17.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Greenland ice flow likely to speed up: New data assert glaciers move over sediment, which gets more slippery as it gets wetter

17.08.2017 | Earth Sciences

Mars 2020 mission to use smart methods to seek signs of past life

17.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>