Debunking Elephant Ivory Poaching Myths
"A lie can get half way around the world before the truth can put it's pants on".....Winston Churchill
Elephant Ivory Poaching Myths RE: Massachusetts H 1275 and S 440, Proposed BAN for all antique carved ivory, rhino horns, scrimshaw, paintings, musical instruments and much more.
Additional Posts on this crazy issue:
Elephant ivory poaching myths abound these days when it comes to the problem in Africa, it's causes and potential solutions. I would say outright lie's, however so many who are using these fabricated arguments are unknowingly doing so based on concocted stories and statistics based on half truths published in the media created by environmental fanatics who believe the end justifies the means. So calling them all liars is unfair, lets just say they are badly informed.
Myth: "a belief or set of beliefs, often unproven or false, that have accrued around a person, phenomenon, or institution:"
The USA and the Illegal Ivory trade
In 1990 the New York Times published an article titled "U.S. Ivory Market Collapses After Import Ban" based on a report by the World Wildlife Fund. Prices for new and antique products had plummeted following the complete ban on the illegal importation of ivory due to a lack of demand in the USA.
NYT: ''The U.S. market for ivory is dead,'' said Ginette Hemley, director of the Washington-based Traffic USA, a division of the World Wildlife Fund." ''There is really no incentive to smuggle since there is no longer a demand,'' said Michael Sutton, a co-author of the report.
Prior to the ban 25 years ago it was estimated the US market accounted for as much as 15% of the total of all illegal ivory traffic. Today that estimate is below .5%. Since then up until today, no reports or studies demonstrate any increase in illegal traffic into the USA nor any increase in demand. In fact it's quite the opposite, as cited below, after 40 years since the Endangered Species was enacted the total amount of ivory confiscated in the US amount to less than 50 pairs of tusks. Or roughly a little more than one half of one day's worth of poaching in Africa at today's rate.
So, why the sudden push to make the sale of antique ivory and other similar artifacts illegal across the nation? There is no logic behind this drive, its purely an emotional reaction to the horrors of poaching and the misguided notion that by taking a stand and making illegal something that's not a problem here, will reduce an actual problem somewhere else.
These measures will impact none of the illegal poaching in Africa but will wipe out a significant segment of the antiques and musical instrument industry. Which have never been measurable contributor's to the trade of trafficking in endangered species in the US, according the US Fish and Wildlife service or any other organization.
Poaching is Only About Money, China, Africa and Corruption
It's hardly news during the last few years demand for elephant ivory and rhinoceros horns has skyrocketed due to China's rapidly expanding economy. As a natural economic consequence poaching in Africa to meet this demand has leaped exponentially. It's a basic economic issue, supply and demand 101. The entire situation being exacerbated by wide spread poverty and corruption throughout the sub-continent.
The baseline problem is of course elephants and rhinos are being poached to satisfy the demand in China at an unsustainable level. Possibly resulting in these wonderful animals being driven to near or actual extinction.
Fabricating Elephant ivory poaching myths to fight this terrible situation only diverts attention from the real problem, and it's not the minor role the USA plays in this market.
Ending Poaching Begins and Ends 100% With Changing Demand in China
This terrible situation has driven hundreds of environmental groups to band together to attack publicly in the press and lobby China to impose and enforce a ban on the sale of new products as well as in Hong Kong. This is a good thing to do, it is the proper strategy. As well as putting as much pressure as possible on governments in Africa to crack down on the trade.
Unfortunately these groups, as well as the U. S. Fish and Wild Life Service have taken to distorting the actual facts about poaching and smuggling issues to garner more support from around the world. Beyond these distortions these groups have actually made up their own facts to push forward this important agenda. No where are these distortions and unmitigated fibs more evident than in the silliness being perpetrated across the United States as arguments for a total ban. The strategy seems to be, throw a pile of crap against the wall and see what sticks and then build on it. Below are some of the biggest elephant ivory poaching myths as well as other endangered species.
The USA Is Irrelevant: Illegal Ivory and Rhino Horn Myths
Below are the most commonly heard myths and why they are wrong, it's not complicated.
Terrorist Groups Are Funded by Ivory and Rhino poaching. (Its not true, but is a good story) In the last year or so, the argument for immediate action to fight poaching became tied miraculously to terrorist funding. After all everyone hates poaching, but making it part of the fight against terrorism is it's own most powerful headline. The problem is, there is no evidence to support the claim terrorist groups, primarily Al-Shabaab, are being funded by or are drivers in the illegal trade of elephant or rhino products. See: Report from RUSI.org An Illusion of Complicity and New York Times "The Ivory Funded Terrorism Myth"
The United States Is the Second Largest Ivory Market in the World. (A massive distortion , but makes people feel empowered to act) This argument emerged following a report by Daniel Styles, a highly regarded and often quoted by environmental groups expert on endangered species in Africa and in particular on the topic of elephants. The problem, was according to Mr. Styles can be traced back to a U.S. ivory report he co-authored in 2008. In his report he stated flatly the illegal trafficking in ivory is driven solely by demand for raw ivory and NOT finished ivory products. He also stated in the report the majority of finished ivory available in the USA is legal ivory.
"The US Fish and Wildlife Service has since fabricated Mr. Stile's conclusions to suit their own agenda by saying: "Stiles estimated, in his 2014 follow-up study, that as much as one half of the ivory for sale in two California cities during his survey had been imported illegally. All of this demonstrates the need to impose restrictions on commercializing elephant ivory within the United States." Mr. Stiles furiously refuted this statement by pointing out that his report said nothing about ivory being "imported illegally." He went on to say in his rebuke of the FWS claim: "relative to the size of the USA's population and economy, little raw ivory enters the country legally or illegally (based on seizures). From this perspective, the U.S. ivory market does not appear a significant threat to elephant populations."
While the USA may be the second or third largest market for Ivory, it is overwhelmingly a market for legal and antique ivory, as 99.9% of all poached ivory is sold in China or Hong Kong where the trade is largely legal.
Boston is the Forth largest Ivory Market in the US says Craig's list study. (this might be the most ridiculous "proof" I've seen so far) This nutty story got traction in the press after a study was done comparing Ivory products being sold across the US on "Craigs List" (no I'm not joking). Using the statistics drawn from this study, complete with charts and graphs, the immediate assumption was all of the items were ivory and unless people had PROOF of age shown for each piece some of them might be in the US illegally. Having proof of age is a tough hurdle for nearly any household item when you're trying to sell something.
The other assumption that was problematic with the study's assumption was the idea these seller's all know the difference between ivory, cow bone, cattle horns, walrus tusks or old whale teeth. Over the years as a dealer I've seen the few bits of purported ivory available on Craig's List, they ranged from mostly old small figures, to Japanese netsukes, earrings to carved pins. Most of it looked pretty old, some of it wasn't ivory but bone or resin sold originally most often through museum gift shops. I've lost track of the number of times people have brought us "Chinese ivory" they wish to sell and having to tell them their treasures are made of another substance, including plastic, resin and ceramics.
Boston is and has always been a huge market for legal antique ivory products resulting from Boston's and Salem's trade in China between the late 1700's and the 1920's. Salem alone had at one point over 150 ships devoted to the trade.
To conflate the presence literally a few dozen pieces of purported ivory on a free website as a valid indication of a strong and vibrant illegal ivory trafficking market should have been discarded the day it was issued. Historically ivory has been a very popular material for making jewelry from the early 1800's right through the 1960's. I have no doubt many millions of pieces are today sitting in jewelry boxes all over American, all of it bought long before the Endangered Species Act was written. The fact that some occasionally turns up on Craig's List means nothing.
Operation Crush Illustrated How Big the US Market IS For Illegal Ivory. (Time for some basic math) In 2013 the US Fish and Wildlife service decided to very publicly destroy all of the Ivory they had confiscated since the enactment of the Endangered Species Act in 1973. The total for all of the previous years was a little over 12,000 pounds of ivory. While that may sound like a lot, lets do some math. A pair of ivory elephant tusks weigh between 250 and 300 pounds. Which means based on weight Operation Crush destroyed the equivalent of between 44 and 48 tusks after 40 years of the act's enforcement. Bear in mind that roughly 25,000 to 30,000 elephants are poached each year or between 6 million and 9 million tons per year. Right now they estimate 60 elephants a day are being killed for the trade in ivory. In other words, the US Fish and Wildlife destroyed after 40 years less ivory than is taken in just one day by poachers.
All Ivory, Scrimshaw and Rhino Sales Must be Band, US Antique Dealers Sell Them As Antiques. During the last 40 years, despite there being over 48,000 registered antiques dealers (not to mention part timers) in the USA and thousands of auctioneers there has been barely a handful or two in 40 years of folks in the profession charged with selling illegal or endangered species products. Many that were cited, were unaware their activities were illegal due to ambiguities in the Federal and State laws. Antique dealers sell antiques, not new products and despite claims to the contrary specialists in the field can tell the difference between new and old. Just as they can with paintings, fine art and silver.
In a recent statement the US Fish and Wildlife Service said following discussions with antique dealers and museums " we would allow for the continued commercialization of African ivory in interstate and foreign commerce that is no contributing to the poaching of elephants and where we believe the risk of illegal trade is low"
Banning All Ivory and Rhino Sales in the US will cut Demand. (Absolutely untrue, but its a good story) The demand in the US has been demonstrably shown to be less than one half of one percent of all illegal trade today after 4 decades. Removing that tiny fraction of demand will have no impact in reducing poaching. No industry is crippled by a market loss of one half of one percent. The problem is demand in Asia and corruption in Africa. Not the legal trade of these objects in the USA.
Black market Rhino Horns in the USA pushes demand.(First just try and find demand in the US) This is a real doozy and utterly ridiculous. In the last ten years, virtually the only arrests made regarding these horns has been a handful of Chinese nationals in the US wanting to buy legally imported "Trophy Horns" from the collections or estates of big game hunters. Many have been in the US for 80 to 120 years legally. These buyers would then ship them illegally from the US to Hong Kong or some other intermediary destination. The scale of this activity is so small these few pieces have zero impact on demand or prices. It is a very long way from a genuine problem as newly poached horns are sent directly to Asia, not routed to the US for consumption here.
President Obama's U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance Will Impact Illegal Trafficking in Africa. (A half hearted attempt at best) This is probably the saddest joke of all. Trafficking in Ivory and Rhino horns is a $15,000,000 per day business in Africa based on the numbers of elephants poached alone. During the Summer of 2015, Mr. Obama while on a trip to Kenya promised money to the help fix the problem. The numbers were just pathetic to say the least. $300,000 for a "study" on the problem, $800,000 for a three year "Tracking and Assessment Program" in Kenya and $7,000,000 National Park Agency of Gabon as part of a five-year partnership to secure the largest remaining population of forest elephants in Africa and to institutionalize natural resource management capacity. Thats right a whopping $9,000,000 over several years to solve this big crises..to curtail an industry across a continent nearly four time the size of the United States. Being done to diminish an industry that generates more revenue in half a day than these grants total over several years. This is like offering a glass of water to put out a house fire...
While there are many other elephant ivory poaching myths, these are the ones being pushed here in Massachusetts to pass H 1275 and S 440.
Astoundingly, these same erroneous and frankly false arguments have been successful in getting similar bills passed in New York, California, New Jersey with another on deck in Washington State. Even school children are being fed these silly arguments and paraded into State Houses to testify like parrots. Then of course we have well meaning "progressives" not knowing anything about the real issues surrounding these atrocities, opting to take the simplistic but ignorant route of just going along is so sad. You then have politicians going along out of fear of attack from animal groups. They are in a no win position, so in many states they just cave in and take a bow for being phony advocates.
The logic being deployed to enact these laws is just silly. What's next? Perhaps we can ban the sale of all alcohol in the US because China has no enforced legal minimum drinking age for alcohol consumption.