Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Blood Ivory

    Since ancient times, ivory (“the hard white substance, variety of dentin, composing the main part of the tusks of an elephant”) has been deemed a very precious and valuable element.  It was mainly used for the creation of jewelry and other intricate objects as a symbol of wealth and status.  Today ivory is still considered a prized possession (mainly in Asia) where people use it for the same status symbol of the past.  The issue with these ivory symbols is that it stimulates a lucrative illegal trade that fostered the murder of an estimated 25,000 elephants in 2011. 
    Although the trade of most African elephant ivory has been prohibited since 1990 in over 170 countries, the black market business not only still exists but has been thriving better than ever before. It is estimated that illegal trade of ivory boast a profit of $8 to $10 million dollars annually, which raises the issue at hand.  With so much money to be made how can we destroy an industry that is killing off an important species of animal in Africa (“The forest elephant population in Central Africa shrank more than 60% to roughly 100,000 in 2011 from about 322,000 in 2002”)? (See Blackboard for the article if the link is gated for you.)
    This past Thursday, November 14 2013, the United States took a bold approach in the attempt to try and discourage the trade of ivory.  In Commerce City, Colorado, the U.S. Government along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife services crushed  6 tons (approx. 2,000 elephants) worth of illegal ivory that they have collected over the past 25 years.  The demonstration was designed to show illegal traders around the world that the ivory no longer holds value and should not be accepted as a precious element any longer. 
    In my opinion, the illegal trade of ivory is an issue similar to the illegal drug trade.  While we all know that elephant poaching is wrong and should be avoided, we also can see that the business brings illegal traffickers huge profits.  I believe that while crushing the ivory has brought a positive light to the U.S. amongst many environmentalist groups and people around the world, it may not even create a dent in the trafficking world.  If anything, I think that by crushing 6 tons of ivory may have only stimulated the industry more by showing that the amount of ivory is even scarcer than before. The best remedy for this situation in my opinion would most likely be to legalize the trade of ivory while at the same time creating boundaries on the amount of elephants allowed to be killed per year and setting aside certain areas where elephant poaching is strictly prohibited.  While I understand that this solution is very expensive, (government regulation cost/possible increase in taxes) I think that it would be the most effective first step in combating an industry that has thrived for as long as we can remember.
--Bernard Mathis

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