‘Ivory poaching will make African elephants extinct by 2020′

August 1st, 2008 - 12:30 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 1 (IANS) The pace at which African elephants are being slaughtered for ivory in spite of the 1989 ban is likely to make them extinct by 2020. The illegal ivory trade is being carried out mostly by large crime syndicates and is being driven by growing markets in China and Japan, where ivory is in demand for carvings and signature stamps called hankos.

The public outcry that resulted in that ban is absent today, and a University of Washington (UW) biologist contends it is because the public seems to be unaware of the giant mammals’ plight.

The elephant death rate from poaching throughout Africa is about eight percent a year based on recent studies, which is actually higher than the 7.4 percent annual death rate that led to the international ivory trade ban nearly 20 years ago, said Samuel Wasser, a UW biology professor.

But the poaching death rate in the late 1980s was based on a population that numbered more than one million. Today the total African elephant population is less than 470,000.

“If the trend continues, there won’t be any elephants except in fenced areas with a lot of enforcement to protect them,” said Wasser.

He co-authored the paper that contends elephants are on a course that could mean most remaining large groups will be extinct by 2020 unless renewed public pressure brings about heightened enforcement.

Wasser’s lab has developed DNA tools that can determine which elephant population ivory came from. That is important because often poachers attack elephants in one country but ship the contraband ivory from an adjacent nation to throw off law enforcement.

For instance, 6.5 tonnes of ivory seized in Singapore in 2002 were shipped from Malawi, but DNA tracking showed the ivory came originally from Zambia.

Similarly, a 2006 shipment of 3.9 tonnes seized in Hong Kong had been sent from Cameroon, but DNA forensics showed it came from Gabon.

In addition, in the last few years demand has risen sharply in the US, where much of the ivory is used to make knife handles and gun grips.

In fact, a May report from the Care for the Wild International, a not-for-profit British natural protection organisation, ranks the US second behind China as a marketplace for illegal ivory.

These findings are scheduled for publication in Conservation Biology.

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