If we do not act, we will have to shamefully admit to our children that we stood by as elephants were driven out of existence.WCS conservationists Samantha Strindberg & Fiona Maisels
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The 1980s—the heyday for the illegal ivory trade—was disastrous for elephants. By 1989, the world recognized the crisis and banned the commercial trade. Killing slowed, but only temporarily. In the years since, we have seen political attempts to weaken the ban, wars spilling into elephant habitats across Central Africa, and thriving ivory markets in East Asia, due to a burgeoning middle class. In 2012, poachers killed some 35,000 African elephants for their tusks.
Few of today’s poachers hunt elephants for subsistence; most are commercially driven, heavily armed criminals. In fact, illegal poaching and wildlife trafficking is the fourth largest transnational crime. Ivory—sometimes called “the white gold of jihad”—helps fund the military operations of notorious terrorist groups. Smuggling gangs move tons of tusks to markets thousands of miles away.
©Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty Images
Brutal and sophisticated. Both words describe the armed militants poaching Africa’s elephants. The killers use helicopters, GPS equipment, night-vision goggles, and automatic weapons to find and mow down elephants, then hack their tusks out with an axe—an atrocity often committed while the animal is still alive.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has noted, “Wildlife trafficking has serious implications for the security and prosperity of people around the world.” And Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA) has issued a call to action for Congress to halt the atrocities. “The black market for wildlife is now in the league of drug smuggling," he said at a recent meeting.
©AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh
A majority of illegal ivory ends up as trinkets and carvings for buyers in East Asia—jewelry, chopsticks, bookmarks, and elaborate artwork. But the demand for these goods is not restricted to the Far East. In fact, illegal ivory markets thrive across the globe, including here in the United States.
Source: UNEP, CITES, IUCN, TRAFFIC (2013). Elephants in the Dust – The African Elephant Crisis
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