I’m pleased again at another good omen for the environment in learning of China’s destruction yesterday of six tons of seized ivory ornaments and tusks. This is exciting, since China has been overwhelmingly the prime market for ivory, where it’s turned into trinkets and statuary, and it’s the first time China has done this. Hopefully, it won’t be the last. This comes on the heels of Tanzania’s recent destruction of four tons of ivory, adding up to about forty slaughtered elephants. In addition to Tanzania, Kenya and Gabon have recently destroyed large caches of ivory.
Still, China has a long ways to go. As reported in the NYT on Monday, The Wildlife Conservation Society says that there may be as much as forty-five tons in the total ivory inventory in China, not including Hong Kong. Let’s face it: ivory can be lucrative, fetching $1000 a pound. In poverty stricken Africa, poachers in the field rarely command such profit, pocketed by sophisticated black market smugglers, but minimally still incentive enough. Elephant poaching is further exacerbated as the continent’s many warring factions use ivory sales to purchase arms.
What shocks me is our own large stash of ivory, with six tons of ivory destroyed last November. I guess I shouldn’t be so naive. We have a large Chinese immigrant community, especially on the West Coast, where demand for ivory, rhino horn, tortoise and shark fin can ratchet up lucrative profits. In fact, we’re downright hypocrites. The good old USA ranks second to China in consumption of illegal animal products, including not only those I just mentioned, but even tiger bone! Nothing is sacred; nothing off limits for crime syndicates operating internationally.
Unabated, the trade will peter out in about ten years. We’ll simply have run out of elephants, rhinoceroses, sharks and tigers.
But just maybe the window’s opened a bit with China’s move, offering a new vista of hope. As China’s legacy of ancient wisdom has it, “The longest journey begins with the first step” (Lao Tzu).