Thursday, December 4, 2014



Soldiers arrange a pyre of elephant tusks and thousands of pieces of worked ivory as they prepare to burn ivory stocks corresponding to roughly 850 dead elephants, in Libreville, Gabon, (Joel Bouopda Tatou/Associated Press)

John Gruetzner is the managing director of Intercedent, an Asian-focused investment advisory. He recently researched for the World Wildlife Fund its fund-raising options within China. The views here expressed are personal.

Chinese basketball star Yao Ming’s new documentary The End of the Wild will, ideally, have the impact in Asia that Silent Spring by Rachel Carson had on environmental awareness in the West.

For this shift to happen in sufficient enough time to save the elephant is contingent on major changes in government policy and also empowering Chinese citizens to join the war against poaching of elephants.

Chinese government indifference still sadly permits the legal carving of elephant tusks that drives the poaching of 70 per cent of the 33,000 African elephants killed annually.

If the wealthy could purchase Panda skins legally, this would rightly offend the Chinese people and be strongly condemned. Elephants are just as important culturally, and as natural a symbol as the Panda.

Wildaid’s slogan is Stop the Killing Now. A corollary is to achieve must be Stop the Carving Now. China’s ivory carving’s industry defense is that it relies only on legally sourced tusks. Incontrovertible evidence proves there is widespread mixing of legal and poached ivory.

Carving of dead elephant parts and all retail sales of ivory of any kind to lower total demand need to be banned worldwide starting in China. Funding the retraining of unemployed carvers will prevent the industry from going underground. Closing down the sale and carving of ivory at the 37 approved factories and 145 retail sites would be a major disruption to the total global demand for tusks.

Bold action long these lines would set a positive example to other countries in the same business. Sending a clear message to tourists that lowers off-shore purchases from Chinese will reduce the amount of tusks that are poached. Further work within China to educate people of the consequences such as supporting of terrorism tied to of smuggling illegal wildlife is essential.


Sunday, November 30, 2014


Ever thought of using your smartphone to contribute to environmental science or crack down on wildlife smuggling? Turns out there are mobile apps for that, though just how useful they are often depends on where you live or travel.

The use of apps for eco-science and eco-crimefighting is still in its infancy, but the potential is there. Take the area of wildlife smuggling — only a few apps exist, and for limited regions, but the need extends across the globe, says Heidi Kretser, a social scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society who recently co-authored a study of wildlife conservation apps.

"Mobile apps have the advantage of being able to operate without connectivity" if properly designed, notes Kretser. "Websites require connectivity. Phones? Again connectivity is required."

The Wildlife Alert app from the Wildlife Conservation Society is meant to help U.S. military users quickly identify furs, horns and other animal products that can't be legally taken out of Afghanistan.

Sunday, November 23, 2014



How Elephant Teeth Taught Scientists Extinction Exists
SARAH LASKOW, The Atlantic
NOV 14 2014

At the end of the 18th century, Georges Cuvier was thinking quite seriously about elephant teeth. He was working in Paris, in the National Museum of Natural History, where he had unusual access to bones collected from faraway, exotic places—Asia, Africa, Russia, America.

Plenty of people had seen African elephants, which look like this...

…and Asian elephants, which look like this…

…and concluded that they were more similar than different. But Cuvier looked more closely, and he saw that they were two different species. As Elizabeth Kolbert writes in the New Yorker:

'It is clear that the elephant from Ceylon differs more from that of Africa than the horse from the ass or the goat from the sheep,' he declared. Among the animals’ many distinguishing characteristics were their teeth. The elephant from Ceylon had molars with wavy ridges on the surface, 'like festooned ribbons,' while the elephant from the Cape of Good Hope had teeth with ridges arranged in the shape of diamonds.

One reason that Cuvier was so interested in elephants's teeth was that European explorers had turned up similar, but distinct teeth in the swamps of what would become Kentucky and in Siberia. Cuvier looked closely at the jaw of the Siberian "elephant" and found that its teeth were, like the teeth of the Asian and African elephants, different from the other species's. They belonged, Cuvier eventually concluded, to a distinct type of elephant—a giant one, whose kind no longer existed on the planet. A mammoth.

Before Cuvier made this case, a few other scientists had toyed with the idea that there were animals that had once lived on Earth but were now gone. Cuvier, though, became the foremost advocate for the idea of extinction. His contention, controversial at the time, that in the past the planet had played host to a different cast of creatures, upended the idea that God had created a bunch of animals, plopped them down on Earth, and there they'd lived forever after.

By 1812, Cuvier had identified 49 extinct animals. This is no small feat. It's actually quite hard, Ruth Graham reported recently in the Boston Globe, to pin down how many species have gone extinct:

About 1.5 million plant and animal species have been named, but estimates of how many actually exist vary from 2 million to 100 million. Those numbers change every year: New species are discovered, and others wink out of existence, often without us ever knowing they were there at all. So when scientists talk about thousands of species going extinct in a year, they aren’t counting disappearances: They’re making extrapolations based on estimates of habitat loss, and of how many species currently exist, and how many have existed in history.

Since 1600, according to Graham, there have been 800 documented extinctions. And we have even witnessed some of those extinctions in real time: the dodo and the passenger pigeon, for example.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014



It’s a common saying that elephants never forget. But the more we learn about elephants, the more it appears that their impressive memory is only one aspect of an incredible intelligence that makes them some of the most social, creative, and benevolent creatures on Earth. Alex Gendler takes us into the incredible, unforgettable mind of an elephant.


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