Good News for Elephants!

ele542106059-1024x683CNN reported yesterday that Hong Kong, the world’s largest retail market for ivory, will phase out ivory sales over the next eighteen months and impose severe penalties on those engaging in smuggling and trading of endangered species.

Certainly this is good news! Chinese demand for ivory has long been the primary stimulus to the slaughtering of African elephants, presently an estimated 30,000 annually.

It’s so bad that poaching even outstrips the numbers of elephants being born, which if it continues over the next several decades, will result in these intelligent and emotional creatures vanishing forever.

As just one example, in 1970 Kenya counted 70,000 elephants. That number has dwindled to 38,000.

In 2013, 20,000 elephants were killed across Africa, either through poaching or trophy enthusiasts.

Exacerbating the crisis threatening not only elephants but other exotic wildlife that includes lions and rhinos has been the rise of warlords and terrorists such as the Lord’s Resistance Army and Boku Haram who wantonly prey upon wildlife to finance still more weapon purchases with which to terrorize their fellow Africans.

In all of of this, America is not without blame. The truth is that we are up to our neck in the ivory trade, or second to China in ivory imports, abetted by U.S. law that allows ivory into the country for non-commercial use.

Big game hunters like the dentist who killed Cecil, the Zimbabwe lion, receive fervent support from the powerful NRA, which constitutes one of Washington’s most powerful lobbies. The NRA also backs the large trade in guns with ivory-inlaid stocks.

If the United States along with China, including Hong Kong, were to shut their doors to ivory imports, then our elephant friends would indeed face much better odds.

To bring this about, you and I must never give-up the struggle, converting words into deeds such as liaising with members of Congress, writing op-eds, encouraging corporate giving, and not least, opening up our wallets as well as our hearts to donating what we can to support those frontline organizations (e.g., African Wildlife Foundation and World Wildlife Federation) attempting to bring this cruel carnage to its rightful end.


And Then There Were None: Mountain Gorillas in Imminent Danger


In this central African park.
Desperate refugees crowd park boundaries.
Charcoal producers strip forests.
Then, last summer [2007], someone killed seven of these magnificent creatures in cold blood.
  (National Geographic)


Yet another species, this time one of our closest relatives, faces a grave threat of extinction– mountain apes, of whom only 700-800 remain.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) reportedly has asked UNESCO to redraw the boundaries of one of Africa’s largest wildlife sanctuaries, Virunga Park, to facilitate oil drilling.

Consisting of 300 square miles, or 7800 square kilometers, the park shelters not only the gorillas, but other wildlife and Lake Edward, a key fishing resource.

In 2010, the DRC signed a contract with British firm, Soco, to begin exploration, despite its designation as a World Heritage Site, in violation of international law.

Such scenarios inevitably occur whenever economic interests are pitted against environmental concerns. In Africa, however, grinding poverty is so widespread that nations like the DRC must prioritize developing income resources.

On the other hand, much of that poverty is rooted in Africa’s post colonial history of chronic civil strife and kleptomaniac leadership.

Properly developed in a context of political stability, the DRC is rich in natural resources that could vastly improve the well being of its people.

In the DRC, the resultant instability and economic fallout has created anarchy, as rival militias composed of M23, Hutus, Tutsis and Congolese Revolutionary Army deserters roam the country, raping, plundering and killing.

Virunga National Park has, unfortunately, turned into a quagmire of lawlessness as a hideaway for militants, who use the Park’s wildlife and forest for subsistence.

Additionally, nearly 100,000 refugees live on the Park’s fringes, leading to deforestation and poaching.

In 2004, 1,500 hectares of prime mountain gorilla habitat were cleared by illegal settlers in Virunga National Park, according to evidence uncovered by the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature.

What we know is that at least 40 mountain gorillas have been killed in the last several years.

As is, only 480 mountain gorillas remain in the Park’s confines, with no place to go.

Now the oil interests have moved in.

It’s a tragedy in the making.

Gorillas are gentle herbivores, who seek isolation.

As you might suspect, they have a lot in common with you and me.

Gestation is 8.5 months, approximating our own.

Births are nearly always singular.

Mating, unlike that of many animals, can take place anytime.

Helpless at birth, gorillas crawl at two months and walk at about nine months.

They are very intelligent and live in organized troops, governed by a dominant male known as a Silverback.

Diseases like ebola and those acquired from proximity to humans increasingly pose an additional threat.

In northern Gabon, for example, the entire protected population of gorillas and chimpanzees succumbed to ebola in 1994.

There’s also the bush meat trade along with lustful trophy seekers.

While international wildlife groups have contributed funding to shore up anti-poaching patrols, there are simply too few rangers, given the park’s vastness. Inadequately equipped, they’re no match for the often superior armed militia factions. Sadly, 140 rangers have lost their lives defending wildlife.

Their great champion, Dian Fossey, the world’s preeminent primatologist, was brutally murdered in 1985.

As a child I’d lie at night, thinking of Africa, teeming with wildlife, vast herds of elephants, rhino, hippopotami, zebras, antelopes, wildebeests, giraffes and, of course, isolated savannas and mountains abundant in gorillas, chimps and monkeys.

But that was a child’s imagining.

The adult vista, on the contrary, confronts us with vanishing wildlife and the likely soon extinction of these gentle creatures, our human cousins,

When I think of today’s Democratic Republic of Congo, flashes of Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness with its rampant savagery flood my thoughts and of Kurtz’s agonized lament when confronted with human culpability, “The horror! The horror!”


China Destroys Ivory Stocks: Too Little too Late?


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).


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