There was another large ivory shipment intercepted by Thai customs in Bangkok this week.
Officials acted on a tip-off to find 117 elephant tusks and nine other pieces of ivory, weighing 765 kilos (1,683 pounds) and valued at 38.3 million baht (1.2 million dollars), at Suvarnabhumi Airport on Wednesday.
No arrests have been made in connection with the discovery of the contraband, which was labeled as furniture and plastic folders..." Read more...
Thai officials should be acknowledged for intercepting this shipment of poached African ivory from Kenya. They're certainly getting enough practice to be good at it, as this is the third large ivory bust they've made in the last five months. The total number of seized tusks from these arrests is 652 in addition to other animal parts and smaller pieces of ivory. That's at least 326 elephants killed, probably more, as not every elephant has two intact tusks.
Take a look at this video footage from a press conference at the customs office of Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok on August 21, 2009. The ivory was seized from a shipment from Uganda and Kenya to Thailand and included 316 elephant tusks weighing 2,000 kg and worth about $1,706,000.
If you're reading via email or news feed, click to watch the video.
These recent large busts of illegal ivory in Thailand beg the question: How much poached ivory gets smuggled through Kenyan, Thai, and Chinese airports without incident? Kenya, Thailand, and China comprise what I call The Ivory Triangle, as crime rings in these countries are often implicated together.
Kenya is a prime source for high quality illegal ivory in large part because of the successful efforts by conservationists to repopulate herds of African elephants. Like the old joke, "Why did the criminal rob the bank?" poachers go to Kenya because that's where the elephants are. Also, African elephants have larger tusks than their Asian elephant cousins. I don't know how poachers are able to smuggle so much ivory out of the parks and airports, but you can bet that some officials are getting paid handsomely for their accomplice.
Thailand is a busy transit point for smugglers, who sell some African Ivory to Thai customers, while the bulk of it is routed on to China, Europe, and the United States. Why is Thailand an important point on The Ivory Triangle? A legal loophole that gives plausible deniability to traders who insist they are not selling illegal ivory:
"The U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species banned all international ivory trade in 1989. Traders in Thailand have thrived in part because the 1989 ban did not address domestic trade. That loophole allows them to deceive authorities by claiming their African ivory came from Asia elephants, an effective tactic without DNA testing to tell the difference." Read more...
China has a thriving black market for ivory, driven by consumer demand. Chinese collectors of carved ivory don't seem to have any respect for living elephants or their conservation as an endangered species. I'm not really sure what the psychological and cultural drives are behind this, but the numbers are clear. People want poached ivory and will pay for it:"A surge in demand for ivory in Asia is fuelling an illicit trade in elephant tusks, especially from Africa. Over the past eight years, the price of ivory has gone up from about $100 per kilogram ($100 per 2.2 pounds) to $1,800, creating a lucrative black market." Read more...
By implicating Kenya, Thailand, and China as points on The Ivory Triangle, I'm not overlooking illegal ivory trade in the US, Europe, and other parts of the world. However, it seems to me that the majority of news stories involving ivory smuggling take place in those three countries.
As an elephant lover and conservationist, I find the constant stream of ivory poaching news to be disheartening. You have to be strong to work for a cause that has many setbacks. The scope of my writing for Sacred Elephants has never been animal rights activism, so much as it has been about raising awareness for elephant conservation though entertainment and enlightenment. One of the best compliments I've received from a reader was how she felt inspired about elephants again, after a time of giving up on reading elephant news because it made her so depressed. I want to inspire your conservationist heart so that you will inspire others to join us in saving elephants.
So how can a regular person make a difference in the global problem of ivory poaching?
- Affect that which is in your realm of influence. Certainly you can sign petitions and vote according to the dictates of your conscious. Moreover, talk to your friends and social networking buddies. Governments create bureaucratic walls and crime syndicates hide behind smokescreens, but consumers of ivory products are socially accessible.
- Get the word out that buying ivory isn't acceptable. A lot of people will defend themselves by saying that they collect antiques, but don't give them a nod of approval on it. It's well established that demand for "antique ivory" or "legal ivory" just fuels the demand of illegal poached ivory.
- Tell friends going to ivory hot spots to not buy ivory souvenirs. I know that sounds like common sense, but some people might see the plethora of ivory carvings available in certain countries and think that it must be okay because it's for sale.
- Join me in also discouraging people from buying faux ivory made from bone or resin. Those goods look very realistic, unlike some fake furs and animal prints that are more of a "design inspired by nature". Fake ivory statues and jewelry have the effect of making ivory fashionable and influencing consumer demand for real ivory.
- "Like" this post on Facebook, Tweet it, or share the link. Takes just a second!
Stop The Ivory Triangle from economically succeeding. Friends don't let friends buy ivory.