Vanishing Treasures

Westerners and people in East Africa are critical of Asia and China in particular for the consumption of ivory.  There is a degree of ethnocentrism in our view of who is at fault for killing off elephant and rhinoceros.  This YouTube clip provides balance and expands our perspective at least a little bit.

People strive to get ahead.  It is only natural.  Taking ivory, selling it, displaying trophy and making  jewelry generates income.  Sales of ivory in the United States appears to be dropping off since the writing of the 2008 monograph “Marketing Ivory in the United States” published by Care for the Wild International and Save the Elephants.  The jury is still out really but it isn’t only new wealth in China buying ivory.  More attention worldwide is needed.

In the United States’ stockpile of ivory is soon to be destroyed in a media event similar to the landmark burning of 2000 tusks in Kenya in 1989.  Ivory will be crushed in the parking lot, ivory confiscated by U.S. Customs officers over the course of many years.  And it is taking place in Denver Colorado.  Coincidental but bravo nevertheless.

U.S. Ivory Sales

The recent news to crush elephant ivory confiscated by customs agents continues the symbolic effort bringing attention to ivory demand in the United States.  I’m glad to learn about the plans to crush the ivory.  In Nairobi’s National Park, the site of the first burning of tons of ivory is the pride of conservationist in Kenya.  Richard Leakey, then the director of the Kenya Wildlife Service, persuaded President Moi to make a bold statement, to set Kenya Wildlife Department’s stockpile of 2000 tusks on fire (picture below).  It was torched on the morning of July 18, 1989.  The placard in the park notes that Kenya is “making a statement of global concern: that Kenya would no longer allow the slaughter of its elephants to satisfy market demand for ivory.”  The crushing of ivory in Denver will make the same symbolic statement.  Regrettably, a couple of decades have passed and history repeats itself.

A 2008 publication by Care for the Wildlife International and Save the Elephants by Esmond Martin and Daniel Stiles) documents the United States as being the second largest retail market for elephant ivory, the first being mainland China including Hong Kong.  While this publication is five years old, the slaughter taking place today suggests US demand continues to be a factor.

So I’m thinking, how would I know if ivory is legal or not.  How would I even know if I was handling ivory?  When Josphat Ngnoyo and Nehemiah Rotich were in New York City last May we were shocked to discover an antique store on Madison Avenue selling a huge variety of ivory.  The store owner said much of it was “not real ivory” and any thing that was real was  pre-1988, before the enactment of the African Elephant Conservation Law.   I have sense learned The U.S. Department of the Interior forensics laboratory is developing or has developed a manual for ivory identification by visual inspection.  Elephant ivory is often mislabeled as mammoth ivory coming from Russia.  Mammoth, no longer around are not in danger of eradication and therefore not covered by the endangered species law.  And there are many other alternatives to elephant ivory.   Bone and plastic be made to look and touch like authentic tusk. The Department of Interior’s website where this manual can be had is The site is currently closed due to the government’s shutdown.

Denver doesn’t have a large retail ivory market according to Martin and Stiles research.  There is a large market on both coasts where one can find ivory in Los Angeles, San Francisco’s China Town and New York City’s antique stores and flea markets.

Denver’s Federal installation is the large depository of illicit elephant ivory.   It is a good thing that we demonstrate there is not street value or black market value for this ivory.

Kenya’s  historic 1989 ivory burninglImage

Counting elephant and rhinoceros poachings

The results are mixed. Based on a flyover census by a joint force of Kenya and Tanzania authorities, elephants had a modest increase compared to counts in previous years.  According to the government, elephant population increased 36 percent, the lowest increase recorded since the beginning of aerial census taking.  During the same period, ending with the census of 2010, Africa’s zebras and other large mammals doubled.  Buffaloes increased by 72 percent.  According to conservationists, Africa has lost over 1,000 rhinos in the last 18 months.  Kenya lost 384 elephants to poachers in 2012, compared to 278 in 2011, and 177 in 2010.  These statistics are reported today in the Daily Nation, one of the major papers published in Nairobi.

Since January of this year Kenya has lost 172 elephants and 21 rhinos to poaches.

The census for 2013 will provide further evidence to the killing off of elephant and rhinoceros in Kenya and Tanzaina.   Interestingly, the United States has blood on its hands when it comes to the sale of ivory.  According to a 2008 report, which I will detail more in another post, demand in the United States for ivory ranks is among the highest.  It is time to address this with awareness campaigns and legislation outlawing the sale of any ivory in our country.  It is tragic that demand for animal tusk and horn may ruin the experience of our children to see an unfenced world with free roaming animals of antiquity.  Today we are borrowing from our children.  Our generation borrows from Social Security to the over use of limited resources.  I often wonder if the planet will someday simply dry up and look like planet Mars. It is an interesting planet to look at but I wouldn’t want to live there.  We ought to do our best to keep the planet biologically diverse for the next 10,000 years.

Saturday at Kifaru House

Today in the Saturday Nation there is a interview with Lieutenant General Humphreys Njoroge, retired.  He observes experts handled the hostage situation badly.  Trained in the United States, at the Army War College, he wrote a paper way back when about the importance for joint training of the Army and the Police.  It is regrettable that there was confusion about who was in command on September 21.  I am saddened for Kenya, the death, the destruction of Westgate Mall, the looting and the tragedy of it all.  Njoroge talks about the moral fabric of the country suggesting some of the old times should be called out of retirement.  Kenya is a beautiful country.  I hope the best for Kenya as it continues in its economic growth.