The cover of the August 2011 edition of Vanity Fair (with cover photo of actress Emma Stone) points to "Fighting the Illegal Slaughter of Elephants," a story inside by Alex Shoumatoff. The article, beginning on page 120, is titled "Agony and Ivory." The lengthy subtitle, across a double page photo of a stunning elephant herd, reads:
"Highly emotional and completely guileless, elephants mourn their deadand across Africa, they are grieving daily as demand from China's 'suddenly wealthy' has driven the price of ivory to $700 a pound or more. With tens of thousands of elephants being slaughtered each year for their tusks, raising the specter of an 'extinction vortex,' Alex Shoumatoff travels from Kenya to Seattle to Guangzhou, China, to expose those who are guilty in the massacreand recognize those who are determined to stop it."
While that subtitle could raise anti Chinese ire, the following quote from a Chinese undercover investigator named Crystal, sheds some shocking light:
Another problem, is that the Chinese word for ivory is elephants teethxiang ya. We did a survey. Seventy percent thought tusks can fall out and be collected by traders and grow back, that getting ivory did not mean the elephant is killed, and more than 80 percent would reject ivory products and not buy any more if they knew elephants were being killed, so it's ignorance."
Shoumatoff describes the elephants beautifully, making news of their extermination all the more heartbreaking. He has less flattering words for the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, known as CITES. He tells us that in 2008 CITES allowed South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe to have one-off sales of old stock and he explains:
"These sales supplied 100 tons of ivory to the Chinese and Japanese markets. The argument for allowing them to happen was that China and Japan would be happy with so much ivory, and the poaching would be reduced, but they have had the opposite effect: the poaching has been showing a steady rise, and a lot of illegal ivory is being passed off as old stock."
"Obviously, no ivory should be sold, legally or illegally. It has to be taken off the table completely. You cant keep feeding the demand and providing incentives to poor Africans to continue killing their elephants. Thatand educating the Chineseis the only hope for the remaining ones in the wild. All of Africa needs to follow the lead of Kenya, which burned its ivory stock in 1989. As he ignited the 12 tons of tusks, thus depriving the government of millions of dollars of revenue, in a huge conflagration that remains the single most important event in the history of the battle for the elephants, then president Daniel arap Moi declared, 'To stop the poacher, the trader must also be stopped, and to stop the trader, the final buyer must be convinced not to buy ivory. I appeal to people all over the world to stop buying ivory.'"
We learn that overall, Kenya is doing far better than other countries at controlling the poaching. That might be at least partly because rangers there shoot poaches on sight. The article leaves one with a hankering to support Kenya's tourist industry.
The article also quotes Dr Richard Leakey on CITES:
"CITES is now anachronistic and a sham. Its funded and controlled by the ivory tradeand should be put away. The very concept of trade in high-value wildlife species as a tool for conservation is completely untenable."
Replete with beautiful descriptions of nature and revealing comments on politics, this lengthy article is well worth the read. You'll find it on newsstands right now or on line at
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I thank Darcy Silver and Mark Langley for making sure we saw this article.
Yours and the animals',
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Date: Sat Jul 16 18:42:18 2011