Saturday, January 18, 2014

WHY ARE THERE STILL IVORY STOCK PILES?

 

Phyllis Lee, The ConversationJanuary 17, 2014

China is the most recent nation to destroy its ivory stockpile. It is the world’s largest market for illegal ivory, and the move is welcome news for threatened elephant populations. Ivory represents a tusk hacked, at the point of death, from the elephant, a cognitively and socially complex creature.

One of the problems with ivory is that, like whale oil, it comes from a creature that reproduces very slowly. Female elephants mature at 15 and can calve only every five years. On average they produce just eight calves in their lives. Any population model will tell you that “sustainable harvesting” to meet even modest consumer demand is just not possible with replenishment this slow. It was not possible for whales, nor is it possible for most deep sea fisheries.

In 1986, one economic model of ivory production found that the highest yields could be gained from populations protected from direct exploitation. This was based on obtaining ivory from animals that survived to a very old age and died naturally – they had the largest tusks. Even then, nothing like a global market could be sustained with this rate of growth, death and demand.

After earlier attempts at a licenced trade failed, there has been tinkering with the concept of a regulated ivory trade for the past 25 years under a global trade ban. Lately these have been supplemented with highly controversial and potentially unethical one-off sales to Japan and China.

Over the same period, average tusk size in seizures has gone from 8.5kg to about 4kg. This fall demonstrates that tusks are taken from calves and juveniles, and that over hunting large tusked elephants has removed them from the gene pool.

The unintended consequences of killing elephants for their tusks – as is currently happening throughout West, Central and parts of East Africa – will not be known for several more generations, if indeed they survive that long.

In this context, continuing to regard ivory as a legitimate commodity for trade, wealth generation, or for sustaining local indigenous industries can only lead to the species' extinction. Despite arguments made for sustainable trade, soaring demand would outstrip supply. FULL STORY HERE

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