Tuesday, February 15, 2011

International Contact -- Samuel Wasser

Contact: University of Washington conservation biologist. Samuel Wasser. He is lead author of a paper in the August issue of Conservation Biology that contends elephants are on a course that could mean most remaining large groups be extinct by 2010 unless renewed public pressure brings about heightened enforcement
History: African elephants are being slaughtered for their ivory at a pace unseen since an international ban on the ivory trade took effect in 1989. 
  • evidence gathered from recent major ivory seizures shows conclusively that the ivory is not coming from a broad geographic area but rather that hunters are targeting specific herds
Approach: Wasser’s laboratory had developed DNA tools that can determine which elephant population ivory came form. This 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 example, 6.5 tons of ivory seized in Singapore in 2002 were shipped from Malawi, but DNA tracking showed the ivory came originally form an area centered on Zambia.
---> Result: authorities can find where poaching is known to occur as a means of preventing elephants from being killed.
Statistics: Elephant death rate from poaching throughout Africa is about 8 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.
  • poaching death rate in the late 1980s was based on a population that numbered more than 1 million. Today the total African elephant population is less than 470,000
  • Wasser claims “If the trend continues, there won’t be any elephants except in fenced areas with a lot of enforcement to protect them”
Laws: 1989: most international ivory trade was banned by Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. At the time the treaty was enacted, poachers were killing an average of 70,000 elephants a year. The ban instigated stronger enforcement efforts, nearly halting poaching immediately. 
Illegal Ivory Trade: being carried out mostly by large crime syndicated. Wasser believes, and is being driven by growing markets in China and Japan, where ivory is in demand for carving and signature stamps called hankos. Demand is high in US to make knife handles and gun grips. Illegal ivory trade has gotten relatively low priority from prosecutors, and new laws promoting global trade have created “a policing nightmare,” Wasser says, which makes ivory poaching a high profit, low risk endeavor. 

Solution: focus enforcement in areas where the ivory comes from in the first place, before it enters the complex, global crime trade network. Public support is crucial to helping reduce demand and to spur the needed enforcement help from the West. 

NOTE: We tried to contact this professor. No reply, but his published works have been provided us with sufficient information.


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