'The loss of biodiversity' is 'important' to most people -scientists included, for essentially belief-system reasons; crucially more important, however, is that best-continuing biodiversity to future generations.
December 29, 2007 -Weekend Edition Saturday National public radio
African Ivory Headed for One-Time Auction
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host: Sometime soon, tons of African ivory will be
sold at auction to Japan. Despite the international ban on the ivory trade,
South Africa, Botswana and Namibia will make a one-time purge of some of their
ivory stockpiles. Japan is the only country that has enough safeguards to keep
the tusks off the black market. There will not be another auction like this
until 2015, if ever, as this year’s sale demonstrates handling ivory is a lot
like juggling dynamite.
GWEN THOMPKINS: If Esmond Bradley Martin has one thing to say to you and
me and anyone else who might be listening, it’s this.
Dr. ESMOND BRADLEY MARTIN (Conservationist): If I was going to die
today, my biggest contribution academically would be to show that except for
one small area in India, rhino horn has never been used by Asians for sexual
purposes, not at all. But it’s in all Western literature and it’s also in some
Eastern literature, which is a great pity.
THOMPKINS: He would know. Bradley Martin is one of the world’s foremost
authorities on illegal trade in big-game animals. Apart from the sex stuff,
Bradley Martin says people come at rhino horns for a couple of reasons. One
might make you well, and the other might kill you.
Dr. BRADLEY MARTIN: There are two main uses for rhino horn: One is for
Eastern Asia, where it is used for lowering fever especially for children. So
as you know, mothers and parents will spend almost any money at all to cure the
child. So it’s not a luxury item. The other main use for the last couple of
thousand years has been making dagger handles up in Yemen. The daggers are
called jambiyyas. And the best handles are made out of rhino horn. It’s very
prestigious in Yemen.
THOMPKINS: Ever heard of Africa’s big five? These are the animals people
generally want to see on lawn safari: rhinos, lions, leopards, buffalo and
elephants. Under the strictures of international wildlife conventions, hunting
of the big five is severely restricted.
Mr. JULIAN BLANK (MIKE Program, United Nations): At the regional level,
certainly the proportion of illegally killed elephants seems to be much higher
in Central Africa, followed by Eastern Africa, followed by West Africa, and the
last one is Southern Africa.
THOMPKINS: That’s Julian Blank of the United Nations’ MIKE Program. MIKE
is an acronym for Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants. Unlike rhino
horn, ivory has no purpose other than to look good. Before the ban in 1989,
every nation truck in tusks.
Again, Julian Blank.
THOMPKINS: In the late 1970s, Africa was home to well over a million
elephants and hundreds of thousands of rhinos. But as the bans on rhino and
elephant hunting took effect, a massacre to end all massacres wiped out their
numbers across the continent. It was like looting a store that has announced it
was going out of business.
Mr. PHILIP MURUTHIE (Director, Conservation Science, African Wildlife
Foundation): Now, how do you detect poaching? Of course, you see the
THOMPKINS: Philip Muruthie directs Conservation Science at the African
Wildlife Foundation. He and others say that a perfect storm of political
instability on the continent, gross mismanagement of wildlife and massive
corruption set the stage for rampant poaching in the 1970s, ‘80s and early
‘90s. Nowadays, he says, there are two additional driving forces to be reckoned
with – hunger and a taste for the exotic.
Mr. MURUTHIE: There is also another kind of new sort of poaching of the
common hoofed animals. Things like Thomson’s gazelle, the common zebra,
giraffe. You see the heads, and you see the hides. You heard of the
bushmites(ph) trade, the illegal bushmite trade that is feeding our cities.
THOMPKINS: Increasingly, Africans are eating elephants, too. Moses
Litoroh coordinated the Elephant Programme at the Kenya Wildlife Service.
Mr. MOSES LITOROH (Coordinator, Elephant Conservation Programme, Kenya
Wildlife Service): This is war. The poaching wants war. I mean, you are coming
across people that are – they will kill you. They are, you know, armed with
automatic fire power. So you are going to lose men like in any battle.
THOMPKINS: Earlier this year, he says, there was a battle on the
northern coast of Kenya, near the border with Somalia.
Mr. LITOROH: We lost three rangers, three of our rangers. We lost lives
whether we kill five of them, and these were bandits from Somalia.
THOMPKINS: So who is the biggest importer of ivory and rhino horn? That
would be China.
Dr. BRADLEY MARTIN: A few years ago, I was working up in Khartoum in
Sudan and there are craftsman there are making ivory. I found 50 shops selling
ivory – all illegal – and (unintelligible) I estimate 75 percent of the buyers
were Chinese. Now I photographed them and published them.
THOMPKINS: Twenty years ago, China was in the market primarily to sell
carved ivory, mostly to foreigners. Now as their economy booms, more and more
Chinese are buying ivory for themselves.
THOMPKINS: One of the surest ways to track elephants is to follow the,
well, you know what. That’s how the experts do it. Here at Masai Mara, Kenya’s
protected wildlife savanna, an elephant has died.
THOMPKINS: As the carry-on birds pick at the remains, rangers remove the
tusks and send them directly to ivory store houses maintained by the Kenya
Wildlife Service. Ranger David Otieno(ph) says that after a few days, they
slide out like loose teeth.
Mr. DAVID OTIENO (Ranger, Masai Mara): You know when it dies, it rots
from - you can even just shake them to remove.
THOMPKINS: But there’s a hard truth for wild animals outside the Masai
Mara and other government-protected sanctuaries in Kenya, a truth that even
spills over to other areas of Africa.
Dr. MICHAEL NORTON-GRIFFITHS (Ecologist): Every wild (unintelligible) at
these has blue jeans, a Mercedes and sends their kids to Harvard. You’re not
going to get that if your ranch is full of zebras and (unintelligible).
THOMPKINS: Ecologist Michael Norton-Griffiths is among a growing number
of conservationists who want more legal hunting in Africa and in Kenya in
particular. He says limited hunting, along the lines of what is now happening
in southern Africa, Tanzania and Uganda, gives value to wild animals when they
venture outside of protected sites and on to private property, a value that
they would not normally have.
Dr. NORTON-GRIFFITHS: If you go on to somebody’s ranch and try and kill
a cow or drive a cow away, you will end up dead. You’ll look like a porcupine.
There’ll be so many spears at you. Why? Because that cow has value. You go on
to a guy’s property and take an impala, and the guy will say thank you, great.
Take some more. They won’t stop you in any way because those animals have no
value at all. In fact, they have a nuisance value.
THOMPKINS: In some parts of Africa, for instance, hunters pay thousands
of dollars to kill one elephant. Some of that money goes toward conservation
and some goes into the hands of local communities.
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