Conservation, News, Poaching

Photo by Ben Block

Poachers usually take them with large caliber rifles. 338, 416, 458 and 300 caliber rifles are the favorites. AK-47s, FN FALs and even machine guns occasionally cut down herds of elephants or scores of gorillas. Sometimes poisons and snares replace rifles and machine guns. Cyanide laced bait causes the inhibition of cytochrome c oxidase and starves the animal’s cells of oxygen until it painfully dies. Snares trap and strangulate animals. Some unfortunate victims succumb to blood loss, over-exertion or exposure.

Then the animal s butchered. Poachers armed with machetes and sometimes chainsaws cut away the animal’s valuable parts. Hearts of lions are ripped out, bones extracted from tigers, tusks hacked from elephants, ivory horns chainsawed from rhinos and the mutilated carcasses left to rot in the sun. Vultures, jackals and other scavengers that descend on the dead and deserted animals often succumb to the remnants of poisons and snares as well.

An elephant herd's matriarch watches our monitoring group closely. Poachers occasionally target and exterminate entire elephant herds. Photo by Ben Block.

An elephant herd’s matriarch watches our monitoring group closely. Poachers occasionally target and exterminate entire elephant herds. Photo by Ben Block.

Hearts, livers, spleens, horns, tusks and fur find their way to camps. Camps where the products are further dissected. Organs are divided and preserved. Furs are tanned and packaged. Tusks and horns are segmented and stored.

Stuffed into crates, the illegal goods are smuggled over mountains, through tunnels and across borders. Poachers carry the goods to ports and pack them into ships.

They send the hearts to central Africa, spleens to Southeast Asia and ivory to China and the United States. The slaughtered tigers, lions, elephants and rhino, are forced to wander the world even after death.

Another day, another chance of being slaughtered. Photo by Ben Block.

Another day, another chance of being slaughtered. Photo by Ben Block.

In the United States, commercial ivory is illegally smuggled in and ‘non-commercial’ ivory (hunting trophies) is brought in legally.

In China, commercial ivory is freely traded and little regulation exists.

A new ivory ban between China and the U.S. states that, “significant and timely restrictions on the import of ivory as hunting trophies” and “significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory” will be imposed.

However, the ban appears to be sentimental in nature, superficial and uncommitted; a way for China to give the impression it cares about halting the ivory trade in an effort to keep the rest of the world off of its back. This appears to be true because of the following reasons.

  1. The specifics of the ban are unavailable and the only step China has taken is the imposition of a year long ban on the importation of carved ivory. This ban ignores the millions of tons of ivory that will be legally shipped and illegally smuggled into China this year. Borders can be penetrated, officials bribed and loopholes in the law found. These three limitations on China’s ability to combat the ivory trade must be solved if law is expected to affect the trade.
  2. The ignorance of the Chinese people. A 2007 statistic revealed that 70% of Chinese citizens did not know that ivory came from elephant tusks. Of those who did know, the majority did not know that elephants and rhino had to be killed in order to harvest the ivory. The government has made no efforts to educate the people of these facts. Instead, nearly all of the Chinese efforts to end the ivory trade come from private entities. Typically, these private entities are foreign. Commercials (sponsored by private organizations) against the consumption of Shark Fin Soup caused an over 60% decline in demand for the soup. After being educated as to the real nature of ivory-harvesting, 80% of survey participants (who were consumers of ivory) agreed that the trade should be banned entirely, and that they would discontinue their participation in the trade. The power of education has been proven and should be adopted by the Chinese government. Widespread commercials against the ivory trade would shift public opinion and destroy demand for ivory.
  3. The irony of Chinese laws. The Chinese government vehemently defends its own population of endangered Asian elephants and panda bears. In China, the penalty of poaching can be death. Despite this strict, internal stance against poaching, it is legal to import goods reaped from endangered species killed on other continents. The hypocrisy of China’s legal approach to the ivory trade indicates its lack of ability and desire to commit to any enduring action against the ivory trade.
  4. China’s halfhearted support for the preservation of animal rights. China recently obtained 24 elephants from Zimbabwe for reasons unknown. However, many wild animals are tortured, trained and chained for their entire lives in Chinese zoos, circuses and labor based industries. Big cats often have their teeth pulled, are beaten into submission and used in circus exhibitions. Elephants are psychologically and physically tortured before they are used to ferry rich tourists around fake forests or carry heavy loads of equipment. If China is serious about ending the illegal wildlife trade, it must become serious about ending these barbaric practices as well before it can effectively combat international issues. (Also, many illegal wildlife goods are traded through these circuses, zoos and companies, as they have connections with foreign wildlife traders).

China deserves commendation for taking, although seemingly superficial, this initial step to combat the trade of ivory. However, it is foolish to reduce pressure on China to enact stricter anti-ivory laws. If the Asian ivory trade – the largest in the world – is to be crippled, the four steps above must be accomplished. The borders must be sealed to ivory, the people educated as to the horror of the trade, the laws crafted to protect all endangered species both domestic and foreign and a real commitment to the preservation of animal rights.


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