Ac­tive mar­ket for ivory can’t be shut­tered soon enough

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS CANADA -

China says it plans to shut down its ivory trade by the end of 2017 to curb the mass slaugh­ter of African ele­phants.

The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment will end the pro­cess­ing and sell­ing of ivory and ivory prod­ucts by the end of March as it phases out the le­gal trade, ac­cord­ing to the state­ment re­leased on Dec 30.

China had pre­vi­ously an­nounced it planned to shut down the com­mer­cial trade, which con­ser­va­tion­ists de­scribed as sig­nif­i­cant be­cause China’s vast, in­creas­ingly Chris Davis af­flu­ent con­sumer mar­ket drives much of the ele­phant-poach­ing across Africa.

“This is a game-changer for Africa’s ele­phants,” said Aili Kang, the Asia di­rec­tor for the New York-based Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety.

Africa’s ele­phants, maybe. But news out of Bor­neo shows just how low poach­ers will go when it comes to feed­ing the in­sid­i­ous ap­petite for white gold.

On New Year’s Eve, wildlife of­fi­cials in Sabah — one of the two East Malaysian states on Bor­neo — found the butchered re­mains of a beloved male pygmy ele­phant. He had been nick­named Saber, be­cause his tusks curved down­ward, a look rem­i­nis­cent of the over­sized ca­nines of the ex­tinct saber-toothed tiger, the Guardian re­ports.

From the looks of the re­mains, of­fi­cials es­ti­mate Saber had been slaugh­tered as long ago as Novem­ber. And the dis­cov­ery was made just days af­ter wildlife of­fi­cials had found the butchered re­mains of another male ele­phant within a mile of Saber’s car­cass.

Ele­phant poach­ing had never been con­sid­ered an is­sue on the is­land — only male Bornean pygmy ele­phants have tusks, and the ivory is con­sid­ered brit­tle — but things may be chang­ing.

Danau Gi­rang Field Cen­tre Di­rec­tor Benoit Goossens told News Asia that from the looks of both sites, a cot­tage in­dus­try was sprout­ing up in the area.

“We are ready to pro­vide all nec­es­sary in­for­ma­tion to the in­ves­ti­ga­tors and to the po­lice. I be­lieve that this is the work of a pro­fes­sional hunter and trader,” Goossens said.

“On the day China banned ivory trade, we get two of our pre­cious ele­phants mur­dered for their ivory. Our ele­phants are al­ready threat­ened by habi­tat loss,” he said. “If we add poach­ing for ivory, I don’t give many years for the species to become ex­tinct.”

Dr Pa­kee­yaraj Na­galingam, a vet with the wildlife de­part­ment who had taken part in res­cu­ing Saber from the palm oil plantation where he had been dis­cov­ered and re­lo­cat­ing him to the safe haven of a pre­serve, said, “There are no words to ex­press our sad­ness.”

He told re­porters that there seemed to be no safe place for ele­phants in Sabah any­more.

Saber had also been fit­ted with a ra­dio col­lar, which was found with his re­mains.

The pygmy ele­phants of Bor­neo are about one-fifth the size of their mighty African cousins, and ge­netic anal­y­sis sug­gests they have been evolv­ing sep­a­rately for 300,000 years.

They are also se­verely en­dan­gered with an es­ti­mated fewer than 2,000 liv­ing in the habi­tat be­ing ag­gres­sively en­croached upon by in­dus­trial-scale palm oil plan­ta­tions, which view the diminu­tive pachy­derms as pests.

Bor­neo has al­ready lost its rhino, Goossens said. “The ele­phant will be next. Those crimes should not go un­pun­ished. Let’s not lose our jew­els, the next gen­er­a­tion will not for­give us.”

As time is run­ning out for all ele­phants, it re­mains to be seen what kind of pos­i­tive ef­fect China’s an­nounce­ment will have in the year ahead.

China, which has sup­ported an ivory-carv­ing in­dus­try as part of its cul­tural her­itage, said carvers will be en­cour­aged to change their ac­tiv­i­ties and work, for ex­am­ple, in the restora­tion of ar­ti­facts for mu­se­ums. More ef­forts will be made to stop the il­le­gal trade, the state­ment said.

Iris Ho, pro­gram man­ager for wildlife at Hu­mane So­ci­ety In­ter­na­tional, said, “China’s ground­break­ing an­nounce­ment il­lus­trates that po­lit­i­cal will, backed by con­crete pol­icy pre­scrip­tions, is the sin­gle best solution to save ele­phants. China’s bold ac­tion con­trasts sharply with the in­ac­tion of other global sig­nif­i­cant ivory mar­kets, such as Ja­pan or the Europe Union.

“China’s new pol­icy, hope­fully, is the be­gin­ning of the end of the ivory trade and a wake-up call to those re­fus­ing to shut down the ivory trade in their ju­ris­dic­tions,” Ho added.

The num­ber of Africa’s sa­van­nah ele­phants dropped by about 30 per­cent from 2007 to 2014, to 352,000, be­cause of poach­ing, ac­cord­ing to a study pub­lished this year. For­est ele­phants, which are more dif­fi­cult to count, are also un­der se­vere threat.

Con­tact the writer at chris­davis@chi­nadai­lyusa. com.

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