On elephants

I’ve decided I need to bring some focus to my blog. While I’ll continue to talk about music and movies and personal stuff, I’m going to focus more entries on a subject of personal and professional interest to me: elephants. They’re wonderful, feeling animals that are at the center of a lot of urgent, complex economic and environmental issues. Why me? Well, I have some firsthand experience!

Trunk

This week China banned the important of ivory – a necessary step in the saving of wild elephants, but a step that’s small and not adequate to solve the problem. China is the world’s largest ivory market* and demand has gone through the roof over the last decade. There are a lot of reasons the situation has gotten so bad, including Chinese companies doing more business in Africa, the growing middle class in China, African civil wars and turmoil, and terrorists selling ivory to raise cash. The new rule doesn’t affect China’s domestic ivory trade, which means demand can keep growing – and people will probably keep buying ivory illegally or by going to nearby countries where imports are legal. And you can wait out a one-year ban. There are reasons to doubt China’s commitment here.

*Don’t get smug, Americans. Guess who’s #2.

In the meantime progress is being made on other fronts. Many Chinese ivory consumers don’t understand that elephants are killed for ivory. Some of the education campaigns are very cute. Thailand, another big market, has vowed to ban the trade but hasn’t yet achieved it.

What’s to be done? People have to keep pushing for bans, and the nest of issues that creates demand for ivory – poverty, lack of enforcement, poor environmental development, ignorance of the consequences – have to be addressed. It’s hard to tell people not to poach ivory if they don’t see another way to make money; they’ll treat elephants as a resource until the incentives are changed, and if demand isn’t tackled, anti-poaching measures may only drive up the price of ivory. There needs to be an alternative and that kind of sustained commitment to other countries is a huge challenge. There’s no lack of attention being paid to this issue (charismatic megafauna represent!), which helps. But problems that arise over hundreds of years don’t go away in a hurry and at this rate African elephants don’t have a lot of time.

So at the risk of self-aggrandizing, here’s where I am adding my voice to the chorus of people trying to intervene. Consider this part one of however many it takes.

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