Herbert Grimes — Gulf Daily News
August 22, 2012
If you believe in reincarnation, avoid being reborn as an elephant in Kenya. your life will be short. And your death brutish. Only a few years ago conservationists hoped that they might be beginning to conquer the curse of ivory poaching. They were wrong. Since 2007 the illegal ivory trade has ballooned.
Traffic, a body that monitors trade in wildlife, branded last year an annus horribilis for African elephants. It conservatively estimates the weight of illegal ivory seized in 2011 at more than 24 tonnes, a figure that it reckons represents at least 2,500 elephants. That haul was not only more than twice the amount seized the previous year, it was also more than had been seized at any time since it began keeping count 23 years ago.
The illegal ivory's journey follows a well-trodden trade route. Concealed in a container in a Kenyan or Tanzanian port, it is shipped to Asia, where documentation accompanying an onward shipment is changed to make it appear as a local re-export thereby camouflaging its origin in East Africa, and ends up in China or Thailand. But mostly China. Even when the ivory is caught, the criminal masterminds behind the trade rarely are. Most poachers live to poach another day. Cites, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, is so gloomy that in a report last month it warned that the number of elephants being killed each year "is likely to run into the tens of thousands", with China still "the paramount destination for large-scale ivory consignments".
Since little headway is being made in choking off the supply of ivory, conservationists are changing tack by trying to suffocate demand. Their latest recruit is Yao Ming, a 7ft 6in former NBA basketball player who used to earn $50 million (BD18.85m) a year as the star of the Houston Rockets. As China's answer to Michael Jordan, he is showing what the power of celebrity and example can achieve.
Through the US-based charity WildAid, Yao has already persuaded officials in Beijing to stop serving shark-fin soup at official banquets. Now, on a visit to Kenya where he has seen the blackened, rotting elephant carcasses that are the by-product of the ivory trade, he hopes to cajole his countrymen into turning their backs on ivory too. "We're trying to deliver the message back to where I live," he said, "that the only way to stop poaching is to stop the buying." But it is not only elephants that are vanishing to sate Chinese appetites. Rhinos, too, are poached to meet Chinese - and, increasingly, Vietnamese - demand for rhino horn. Powdered horn is prized as a hangover remedy. Also as a mythic cancer cure for the elderly: given China's ageing population, this makes conservationists queasy.Read the Entire Article » Related tag(s): Demand Grows