Guest Host: Tom Gjelten
Efforts to halt the slaughter of African elephants have been far less successful than many had hoped. An international ban on the elephant ivory trade was put in place in 1989. Elephant populations began to rebound. But ivory traders exploited loopholes and poachers became more efficient – and more brazen – in their methods. Today, poachers kill as many as 35,000 elephants a year. Conservationists warn that unless more is done, those great land mammals could become extinct. For this month’s Environmental Outlook, guest host Tom Gjelten and a panel of experts discuss how to stop the elephant ivory trade.
- Grace Ge Gabriel regional director for Asia, the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
- Craig Hoover chief of the Wildlife Trade and Conservation branch of the International Affairs program, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior.
- Bryan Christy director of special investigations at National Geographic; author of the October 2012 National Geographic article, "Blood Ivory."
MR. TOM GJELTENThanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR sitting in today for Diane Rehm because she's on vacation. The U.S. has stepped up efforts to end the lucrative elephant ivory trade. Conservationists say a total global ban and more rigorous enforcement are needed. Illegal ivory business is big in the U.S., but China is by far the world's largest market. For this month's environmental outlook, new strategies to end the illegal ivory trade and save African elephants from possible extinction.
MR. TOM GJELTENJoining me in the studio is Craig Hoover of the Interior Department's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from member station WHYY in Philadelphia, Bryan Christy of the National Geographic, and by phone from Yarmouth Port, Mass., Grace Ge Gabriel of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. You can join our conversation. We'll be taking calls throughout the hour. Our phone number is 1 (800) 433-8850. Our email is DRShow@WAMU.org. You can also send us comments or questions on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, everyone.
MR. TOM GJELTENLet's start with you, Bryan. The situation for African elephants, we're certainly with them from all safari films and travel to Africa and so forth. How dire is the situation for African elephants right now?
MR. BRYAN CHRISTYThe situation is unprecedented. In the 1980s, many people may remember, there was a crisis for the African elephant. The population of elephants in Africa plummeted from 1.3 million to about 600,000. And it was that wave of death and poaching that launched -- inspired the world to take action. That level of killing has returned to Africa across the continent, and we have far, far fewer elephants to start with. Elephants are being killed in every manner, and it's a horrific -- it's horrific across the continent.
GJELTENAnd why has it been possible for so many more elephants to be killed these days than were being killed just a few years ago?
CHRISTYWell the big driver is the change in the Chinese economy. China has, until recently, been unable to afford ivory and it sort of went out of the ivory business. But the rise of the middle class in China has led to increased purchasing power and that's -- many people in China are looking back to their past, which included buying ivory sculptures and chopsticks made of ivory. And that, combined with corruption really across Africa, and inadequate enforcement on the -- where elephants reside, all of that has conspired to lead to the problem.
GJELTENGrace Ge Gabriel, you are the regional director for Asia at the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Give us a sense of how the market for ivory has increased in China. As Bryan just said, there's historically, traditionally a large demand for ivory in China. He says it's because of China's growing prosperity that the demand for ivory has increased in China. Is that the way you see it?
MS. GRACE GE GABRIELThere is a cultural fascination with ivory. But not so much just tusk itself, it's the carving of ivory into these elaborate art pieces. But, yes, it's historically -- Chinese have the fascination for ivory carvings. But it was only the purview of a privileged few in the past. And with the economic growth, there is a lot of more buying power. And coming along with it is people's desire to have these large carvings to define their status -- social status. That has caused the increase in demand.
MS. GRACE GE GABRIELHowever, I would also add, there was a big problem that combined with this, was when African elephants' poaching crisis in the '70s and '80s prompted the international trade ban of elephant ivory in 1989. But that trade ban was kind of listed twice since 1989. First, in 1999, 50 tons of ivory was allowed to be traded into Japan. And then 2008, another 62 tons was allowed to go into China. And that really was the opening of the floodgate of this demand.
GJELTENWho allowed that, Grace?
GABRIELCITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which is an international convention that regulates international trade for the conservation of the endangered species.
GJELTENAnd how do you explain that change? Were there forces within that treaty group that pushed for this?
GABRIELYes, very much so. There were countries that felt the need to trade in ivory. And many people -- many countries, particularly countries from Southern Africa, they have the capacity -- they have more capacity than Central African and East African countries to enforce their laws and regulate, you know, their elephant populations, which -- so they have, you know, more ivory in their stockpile. And they want to trade. And actually, in 1989, when the trade ban was put in place, it coincided -- at that time, coincided with China's -- many of China's ivory-carving factories were state owned.
GABRIELSo they were shrinking down -- China's economy was shifting from the state economy to private economy. So many of these carving factories were shrinking down, old masters stopped taking in apprentices. But with the 2008 legal stock of ivory coming into China, many of these factories are restarting -- restarting hiring new apprentices.
GJELTENWell, and I want to get back to the demand for ivory in China but, Craig Hoover, first of all, let's just, for a moment at least, consider the United States as a market for ivory. Am I right in thinking that piano keys used to be made from ivory? And I assume that they are no longer, now that we've had such high-tech developments in plastic and so forth. But has the demand for ivory really disappeared in the United States? Where does the United States -- because it's been said that the United States is the second largest market for ivory.
MR. CRAIG HOOVERThe United States is a significant market for ivory. Certainly...
HOOVERStill. Certainly China is by far the most significant market. There are other significant markets in East Asia and Southeast Asia, such as Thailand. The United States is a significant consumer. It's one of the top consumers of wildlife, generally, both legal and illegal. I wouldn't characterize the United States as the second largest ivory market, but we are a significant ivory market.
GJELTENAnd what's it used for here?
HOOVERIt's used in musical instruments; it's used in carvings; it's used in knife handles, a variety of different ornamentations and tools that are created with ivory. Ivory both that has been in the United States for a long period of time and ivory that has been recently smuggled into the country.
GJELTENSmuggled in, you say. So that would be illegal.
HOOVERThat's right. And we have conducted a number of investigations over the last several years showing that ivory continues to move into the United States. It's often disguised to look like old ivory, so that it can work its way into this legal system here in the United States. And it's the reason we're taking the actions we're taking now.
GJELTENAnd what are those actions?
HOOVERWell, on February 11, President Obama released the national strategy for combating wildlife trafficking. It is the result of an interagency task force. It is a whole-of-government approach to tackling wildlife trafficking both domestically and abroad. It really has three pillars. Those pillars are strengthening domestic and global enforcement, reducing demand for illegally traded wildlife and building international cooperation through international agreements and bilateral efforts.
HOOVEROne of the key elements and one of the most urgent actions outlined in that national strategy is an expansion of domestic ivory trade controls, closing existing loopholes or exceptions to existing laws and regulations, which would, once they are all implemented, result in a near total ban in the commercial trade of ivory in the United States.
GJELTENBryan, we've been talking about the demand for ivory as being one of the reasons for this resurgence of the problem. But you also briefly mentioned at the top the changes in poaching techniques. Can you elaborate on that for just a minute?
CHRISTYSure. The techniques range from sort of your standard individuals poaching with a rifle, elephants, to mass slaughter. You know, we saw in Zimbabwe a lake that elephants use -- a watering hole that elephants used was poisoned to kill -- and resulted in killing elephants whose ivory was taken. Those, they're using AK-47s. They're coming in on horseback and taking out entire herds. In some cases they're arming -- outsiders are arming pygmies, for example, who are unfamiliar with automatic weapons. And those guys are shooting at random.
CHRISTYAnd so you're seeing babies and the weak show up in ivory hoards in part because, in these mass slaughters, the killers don't know what they're doing. It's -- you're seeing poison pits for elephants to fall into. It just goes on and on.
GJELTENAnd 35,000 African elephants are being killed a year. This, as Bryan Christy was saying earlier, has brought the population of African elephants down to 600,000, from a previous high of 1.3 million. And we're talking about what is at stake here, with the ivory trade leading to a possible extinction of these beloved African elephants. Our guests are Craig Hoover, from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bryan Christy from the National Geographic and Grace Ge Gabriel from the International Fund for Animal Welfare. We're going to take a short break right now. Please stay tuned. We'll be right back.
GJELTENAnd welcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten sitting in today for Diane Rehm. And our topic this hour is the illegal trade in ivory and the resulting slaughter of African elephants that's taking place, which could lead to possible extinction of African elephants. And my guests are Bryan Christy. He's director of special investigations at the National Geographic and he wrote an article in the October, 2012 issue entitled "Blood Ivory."
GJELTENAlso Craig Hoover who's chief of the Wildlife Trade and Conservation Branch of the International Affairs Program at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Department of the Interior. And Grace Ge Gabriel, regional director for Asia, the International Fund for Animal Welfare. And Grace joins us by phone from Yarmouth Port, Mass.
GJELTENBryan, just before the break you were talking about the increased deficiency and lethality of the techniques that poachers are using to kill African elephants, including I think you said that they're actually poisoning some of their drinking water sources. I mean, this is really -- they're really getting quite imaginative in the way they're finding to -- ways they're finding to kill these elephants.
CHRISTYOh, it's terrible. And one of the techniques they're using is when they take down an elephant they then poison the carcass. And they do that because rangers will use vultures as a signal flag to identify where an elephant's gone down. So by poisoning the carcass they poison the vultures and they poison the hyenas and the lion who feed on this. So you have this sort of concentric circles of death emanating from even a single elephant. And so you're seeing a crisis even in the vulture population now in Africa.
GJELTENAnd Bryan, you mentioned the rangers. How effective and how dedicated are the rangers in Africa to stopping this slaughter?
CHRISTYWell, there's some extraordinary people out there. And this needs to be seen not only as an animal problem but as a human problem. The rangers are being killed -- just a few years ago, 2012, six rangers in Zacoma (sp?) were killed trying to protect elephants. They're taking a heavy hit and they're also incredibly poorly paid in a number of areas. And so lacking the ability to feed their families, rangers sometimes are the problem or are the poachers, depending on where you are.
GJELTENCraig Hoover, give us the back story here of how this 1989 ban was put in place. Who were the driving forces behind it and what happened? We heard from Grace Ge Gabriel earlier saying that, you know, there were some important forces pushing for loopholes here. What's sort of the narrative here of these efforts to ban the ivory trade?
HOOVERSure, Tom. In 1989 Congress passed the African Elephant Conservation Act. And that allowed the United States to put in place a moratorium or a ban on import of African elephant ivory. And that's one of the cornerstones of what we are doing today to, in fact, strengthen that moratorium. In addition, what Grace was referring to was the CITES Appendix 1 listing that happened in 1990 which essentially imposed an international ban on elephant ivory trade.
HOOVERBut during that time you had a number of countries that were actually doing a very effective job at managing elephants to the point where they had more elephants than the habitat could sustain. And they were accumulating stockpiles of ivory. And so those countries came to the CITES conference requesting to be able to move those stockpiles which were accumulated largely from natural mortality in order to generate revenues for conservation back in those countries.
HOOVERIt was a system that allowed the CITES parties to have two one-off sales of ivory to China and Japan. The intention was that it would diminish the demand by providing a legal supply. And I think what we are seeing today is that whether you are supportive of or not supportive of allowing those stockpiles to be sold, it did not diminish the demand. And what we have today is this incredible increase in poaching and illegal trade.
GJELTENNow, the United States actually crushed its ivory stockpile a few years ago. What was the purpose of that? What was the thought behind that?
HOOVEROver two decades of enforcement and investigative efforts, the United States and the Fish and Wildlife Service accumulated roughly six tons of elephant ivory that we maintained as our seized ivory stockpile in a repository in Denver. Last November we decided to destroy that ivory stockpile by crushing it into small worthless bits of ivory.
HOOVERAnd we did that largely to communicate to the world the significance of this issue and what was going on with elephants in the wild and with other species that are being exploited for illegal trade. And it was an opportunity to raise awareness and to reach out and inform the public of the threats posed to African elephants. And we have seen immediately following our crushing of African elephant ivory, China crushed six tons of ivory, Hong Kong has announced that they will destroy their ivory stockpile. France, Chad and Central Africa also have destroyed their ivory.
HOOVERSo we sent a message and other countries have followed suit and are now sending that same message.
GJELTENNow those stockpiles were stockpiles. They were not in the market for ivory. So it didn't have any effect on the supply of ivory in the market.
HOOVERThat's exactly right. These were seized ivory stockpiles. This was contraband material. It was never going to go into a legal market so it had no bearing on the supply and demand.
GJELTENRight. Now Grace, as Craig just said, China was one of the countries that crushed a lot of ivory. What is the view in China? With China's demand for ivory being such an important factor, apparently the Chinese government is onboard with this effort to control the ivory trade judging by its agreement to crush its ivory stockpile or a portion of its ivory stockpile. Where -- what -- how do you see the Chinese government's position on this evolving?
GABRIELIndeed U.S. set a great example by crushing the ivory, and China followed that example. And Chinese government has, over the years, done quite a lot in terms of controlling or trying to control the illegal ivory trade. For instance, Chinese government has set up an intergovernmental enforcement agency. And this taskforce has followed many of our intel leads provided by NGO, such as IFAW when we monitored a market and we identified the illegal trade and we provided that information to law enforcement and they had cracked down the market.
GABRIELAnd what's more important is Chinese government had worked together with many of the online companies in China. For instance, China's largest trading website, the equivalent of eBay in China, is called taobao.com. Taobao in Chinese means treasure hunt. Taobao.com banned elephant ivory trade as early as 2007. And after that, Taobao website banned not only elephant ivory but tiger bone, rhino horn, bear (unintelligible) scale, turtle shell and shark fin.
GABRIELAnd led by Taobao, currently 21 other online websites had adopted a zero tolerance policy for wildlife trade. And these policies are actually stronger than China's wildlife protection law. Because in that -- under that law China allows legal ivory trade offline. But online trade of ivory is totally banned. And in 2012 -- beginning of 2012, Chinese government also put in place a notification banning the auction of tiger bone, rhino horn and elephant ivory by all of the auction companies in China.
GABRIELAnd that itself -- that ban in 2012 reduced China's auction -- total auction volume by 40 percent representing 322 million U.S. dollars worth. And that entirely came from the trade of endangered species.
GJELTENBut Grace, it sounds like China -- as much as the Chinese government is doing, it could do more if the demand for China is as significant as it is. And we all know that the Chinese government is -- still plays a pretty heavy-handed role in the Chinese economy. It must be clear that the Chinese government could do more than it's doing so far.
GABRIELIn fact, the problem -- law enforcement officials that we work with in China tell us -- and because the law is unclear, because there is a parallel legal -- illegal market which makes their law enforcement very difficult which also sends a confusing signal to the marketplace to consumers. And making them, you know -- many people do not know -- first of all, many Chinese do not know ivory comes from dead elephants.
GABRIELIn the 2007 poll -- IFAW poll, we found that 70 percent of the Chinese do not know ivory comes from dead elephants.
GJELTENWell, where did they think it came from?
GABRIELWell, because in Chinese ivory is literally called elephant piece, so people think when it's piece, you know, people's piece can fall off and people don't have to die. And so based on that -- our understanding of that misconception, we -- IFAW has developed a public awareness campaign which using a baby elephant and a mother, baby is telling the mother that he has piece -- baby elephant having piece but mother is not happy because she knows that her baby having piece meaning death.
GABRIELAnd that ad campaign -- we recently did an evaluation of the campaign which showed that the campaign had reached 75 percent of the urban Chinese population. And also it reduced the population most likely at risk at buying ivory from 54 percent to 26 percent.
GJELTENGrace Ge Gabriel is regional director for Asia at the International Fund for Animal Welfare. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Bryan Christy in Philadelphia, when you did your research for this National Geographic article, what did you find about China's -- the Chinese government's -- the seriousness of the Chinese government's efforts to control the ivory trade in China?
CHRISTYWell, I think you're asking exactly the right question. If we're asking how are we going to stop elephant poaching or stop the illegal ivory trade, the answer lies with China. And then unlike the other countries who have done ivory crushes or are taking actions on the illegal ivory trade, the thing to note is that the Chinese government is in the ivory business. The Chinese government owns the world's largest ivory carving factory. It owns retail shops in China. It controls the trade association that monitors and regulates those ivory institutions -- selling institutions that it doesn't itself own.
CHRISTYSo at the same time we're seeing positive -- some positive actions by China, it's important to keep mind that the Chinese government has, for the moment, a direct interest in expanding and continuing the ivory trade. And that's the essential conflict in these discussions.
GJELTENWhat's that direct interest?
CHRISTYWell, they have a financial interest. I mean, it's their -- the factory is theirs. The retail shops are theirs. So to say we want to -- they have not said, for example, we want to stop the ivory trade. What they say is -- and it's a little bit of -- you have to listen closely when you're listening to these international discussions. What they will say is, we want to stop the illegal ivory trade, which means they want to stop the black market, but they definitely want to continue the legal ivory trade.
CHRISTYAnd what we've seen -- as Grace has pointed out, what we've seen is as soon as we opened -- the world opened the ivory trade in 2008, it allowed China to buy that one batch of ivory from Africa, the black market activity boomed. And killing has been on a steady rise ever since.
GJELTENCraig Hoover, because you are running the Wildlife Trade and Conservation Branch at the U.S. -- or the international portion of that branch at the U.S. Official Wildlife Service, I'm sure you've had a lot of thoughts and dealings with the Chinese on this issue. What's the U.S. government's view of the level of Chinese cooperation on this issue?
HOOVERWell, I think they're similarly situated to us in that they're doing quite a bit and they can do quite a bit more. It's on a much grander scale because that is the primary driver. They are the engine that is driving poaching and illegal trade right now. As Grace highlighted, they've taken a number of very positive steps.
HOOVEROne of the reasons that we're taking the actions we're taking here domestically is to ensure that the United States is not contributing to poaching and illegal trade. The other reason is that by cleaning up our own house it puts us in a better situation to have these discussions with the Chinese, with the Thai governments, with these other major consumer markets.
HOOVERAnd we are working closely with the Chinese through a variety of different fora. We're having bilateral discussions. We're raising wildlife trafficking with them. We are putting this agenda item on the table in each and every discussion we're having with the Chinese. And working together to take actions and encouraging further actions in these bilateral meetings as well as in international agreements such as through CITES.
GJELTENI want to go now to Alicia who's on the phone from Pittsburgh, Penn. Alicia, you have a question for our panel this morning?
ALICIAYes. Thank you so much for taking my call. My question is, I had -- I inherited from my great grandfather a beautiful ivory tray. And I'm wondering if it is legal or illegal to own that.
HOOVERJust to be very clear, the actions that we're taking now will have no bearing on ivory items that were legally obtained and possessed. So if those family heirlooms are passed down through generations and they have great personal value to you, you are welcome to continue to hold onto those items. And they should continue to have personal value to you. If you want to sell those items, that's where the actions that we're taking will have an impact.
GJELTENNow, you have in fact strengthened the ban on selling antique -- on selling antique ivory.
HOOVERThat's right. What we made clear in our announcement last week, in our first step in these administrative actions that we will be rolling out over the next several months is that we will full enforce the Endangered Species Act definition of antique. It's a fairly narrow definition and we will shift the burden to the seller to demonstrate that they actually meet that definition before they can engage in sale in ivory.
GJELTENAnd that's because there were traders who were taking advantage of that to sort of pass off new ivory as old ivory, is that right?
HOOVERThat's right. In case after case over the last decade, we have documented significant smuggling efforts, moving recently acquired ivory into the United States disguised as old Ivory and then laundered into the antique ivory marketplace. And that's why we feel we need to aim a much broader more holistic approach to deal with this trade.
GJELTENCraig Hoover is with the International Affairs Program at Wildlife, Trade and Conservation in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. We're going to take a short break right now. And then when we come back, we'll be going to your calls. Stay tuned.
GJELTENAnd welcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten, of NPR. And I'm sitting in for Diane Rehm today. And we're talking about the illegal ivory trade and what it is doing to the population of African elephants, which has plummeted as a result of the poaching of these elephants in order to recover the tusks of the elephants and make ivory out of them. We have a lot of callers and emails.
GJELTENKaren, from St. Louis, Mo., says, "This is such a heartbreaking situation, but it feels almost impossible to the average person to have an impact. What can and should the average person do to help these efforts?" Well, we're going to be talking mostly, I think, about what governments have to do to affect the trade. But here is a couple of interesting suggestions that I'm going to put to you, Bryan Christy, at the National Geographic.
GJELTENOne emailer says, "If we cannot stop the trade in ivory, is there a way to make the ivory worthless to poachers? Can the tusks be stained or otherwise defaced without injuring the animal?" And another emailer says, "Why not cut off the tusks of the elephant to remove the incentive for poachers?" What do you think, Bryan?
CHRISTYYes. People are struggling to come up with creative alternatives. People need to know that the tusks of an elephant are teeth. A large portion of what you see is actually consists of a root, just as a human tooth has a root inside it. So you can cut off a portion, but of course alters the elephant's behavior in the wild. They use those tusks to take down trees and interact with each other. It's also very difficult to drug an elephant. If they don't go down correctly they can easily suffocate under their own weight. It's a very complicated process. And so those limitations also apply to trying to dye this very dense material that's not very porous.
GJELTENWe also have a number of emails from people who have a stake in the legal use of ivory. John, from San Antonio, says, "Ivory is and has been used legally in violins and especially bows. Many find bows were made before ivory bans. There are horror stories of very fine instruments ruined by customs agents to unwittingly confiscate the legal ivory from traveling musicians. Will instruments with legal ivory be protected?" Craig?
HOOVERYes. It's certainly a concern for the musical instrument industry. And one of the things that we have tried to do with the restating the scope of the import moratorium is to carve out a very narrow exception for certain old musical instruments that are frequently carried across borders, so that they can be taken out of the country and brought back into the country. That does not mean that this will not have an impact on the commercial movement of old ivory items within the United States.
HOOVERThere will certainly be an impact, but as we have discussed here today, this is a crisis. It's an unprecedented and dramatic increase in poaching and illegal trade. And we believe that the only way to address it is with equally significant actions and a more holistic approach to regulating that trade.
GJELTENI have to bring one more question from an ivory user to your attention. This is from Sandra, in Ohio. She is an end user, she's an artist who uses scrap ivory, recycled piano keys and old ivory cue balls. She says, "The paperwork just doesn't exist. Even my piano keys will not be legal until I can prove they are 100 years old. Pianos were keyed with ivory up until the 1930s. Should I just crush these? How will that help the elephants?"
HOOVERThere will be documentation requirements to show that an item meets the definition of antique, under the endangered species act or that shows that it will meet our use after import requirements under our CITES regulations. And I would simply draw people's attention to the Fish and Wildlife Service International Affairs website where we have a great deal more information about the kinds of documentation that we will look for. We recognize it's a significant hurdle, but it's a hurdle that can be met with appropriate documentation.
GJELTENGrace Gabriel, we've been talking here about African elephants. Of course that does not take into consideration the situation with Asian elephants. What is the big difference between African and Asian elephants? And are Asian elephants endangered to the same extent and in the same way as African elephants?
GABRIELCertainly Asian elephants -- there are fewer Asian elephants to begin with, fewer than 50,000 are left in Asia. And also Asian elephants only the males have tusks. So ivory trade does impact them in the way that many of the males are targets for poaching and which skew the sex ratio of Asia elephants. But the main problem facing Asian elephants is habitat loss and conflicts with humans in that they exist in the continent which has the largest human population.
GJELTENOkay. Let's go now to Ryan, who's on the line from Houston, Texas. Hello, Ryan. Thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."
RYANHi. Thanks for taking my call.
RYANHi. I was wondering what efforts are really being done to uplift and educate the African and Chinese people on this subject. I heard one of our guests say that 75 percent of Chinese people didn't even know that ivory came from elephants. And the fact is that direction action and aid has failed consistently now for 40 years. The leadership in most countries is really, really corrupt. So it's clear we need to start going over their heads and educating and uplifting the people themselves in order to remove the incentive to hunt these things for the profit that they bring. What kind of efforts are being done in that respect?
GJELTENOkay. Well, Grace mentioned what is being done in China. We haven't talked about anything being done in that regard in Africa. Bryan Christy, are there any efforts of sort of public awareness in Africa? Obviously it's a less developed country and more challenging, therefore, to undertake these efforts, but what is being done in Africa to raise people's awareness of this issue?
CHRISTYThere are a variety of efforts underway, very small though. There are efforts in Kenya, for example, to educate the population there. There's an interesting program to alert Chinese coming into Kenya, on their cell phones, with messages that say don't buy ivory. But in general, there's a disproportionate focus on educating Chinese consumers and probably that's appropriate. In Africa, you're either going to be a criminal, a member of a syndicate whose business it is to do this, and so educating -- you don't need an education. Or you're going to be poor.
CHRISTYAnd developing a pride in your natural resources is a tool. I was just I West Africa last week and I came across a direct instance where a law enforcement officer in West Africa had captured two guys he knew were connected to ivory trafficking and had shipped a major tonnage of ivory off to southeast Asia. And his argument to them to get them to confess to him was, "You are Togolese. This is our national heritage. We've lost, in Togo, our elephant already," he said.
CHRISTY"And the ivory you have helped send out of our country, came from elephant populations in nearby countries. Take pride in yourself." That was his argument. And it was a testament to the power of individuals to take action. And the power of national pride to achieve change.
GJELTENWell, speaking of what's at stake here for individuals, Craig Hoover, what's your message to Americans who have always wanted to go to Africa and hunt elephants? I mean, big game hunting is a pursuit that people have followed. Do you have a message for Americans who want to go to Africa and kill elephants?
HOOVERYes. And one of the administrative actions that we will be taking is to reduce the number of African elephants that can be brought into the United States as a sport-hunted trophy. Reducing the number of elephants per hunter, per year. But we recognize that sport hunting can be a valuable tool in conservation. And there are still a handful of countries in Africa who are doing an effective job of managing their elephant populations. And I think in particular South Africa and Namibia and Botswana.
HOOVERAnd we, through our own laws and regulations, have the ability to insure that sport hunting and the import of sport-hunted trophies to the United States can only happen when there's a clear demonstration that that sport hunting is in fact enhancing the survival of the species in the wild, by putting revenues back into those countries, by giving them resources to engage in conservation and law enforcement efforts. So we still allow some sport hunting and some import of sport-hunted trophies to the United States, but it's a very high bar, it's a very high conservation bar that they have to meet before we allow that to happen.
GJELTENSo the hard currency earnings from tourism that big-game hunting brings to these African countries, is actually a positive factor, you would say. Which is why big-game hunting is not the source of the problem here, but may even be part of the solution.
HOOVERThat's right. Well-managed, well-regulated, carefully controlled sport hunting can be part of the solution. And it's one that we will continue to monitor very closely to insure that it is part of the solution.
GJELTENWould you agree with that, Bryan?
CHRISTYWell, historically, Craig's absolutely right. I mean it's important to keep in mind that a lot of the biggest innovations in American conservation were pioneered by people who wanted to preserve animals in order to be able to hunt them. Teddy Roosevelt immediately leaps to mind. But all our big -- Gifford Pinchot, William T. Hornaday, all the historical pioneers of conservationism in the United States were hunters.
CHRISTYAnd big game hunting does bring money to Africa, but it is also a front, unfortunately -- on a case-by-case basis -- for trafficking and for poaching. So it's a difficult question, but one that hunters have a very good argument for.
GJELTENLet's go now to Alison, who's on the line, from -- I don't know where you're from, Alison. Are you there? Okay. It's David. I'm sorry. David?
CALLERNo. This is somebody else, but I wanted to ask very quickly, the gentleman from the National Geographic. Would he point out the intelligence of the elephant and what an incredibly gifted animal this is? It's able to -- like the dolphins -- only few species are supposed to recognize themselves in a mirror and manipulate different objects to clean themselves or groom or whatever. To talk about the intelligence of the elephant and how they are with their children and all these different things about the beauty of the beast.
GJELTENOkay. Before you do that, Bryan, let me just remind our listeners that I'm tom Gjelten and this is "The Diane Rehm Show." Okay. Go ahead, Bryan.
CHRISTYSure. Well, I would say the caller did that very well. My focus is crime. I'm not an elephant expert. I will say in the years I've been investigating ivory trafficking I've come to research exactly what she's talking about. And it's heartbreaking when you see a community of elephants -- you can see the level of sentience in the animals. And of course, even scratching the surface, you get immediately to the communities that they create, the way the matriarchs, you know, that line "An elephant never forgets," is true.
CHRISTYThe female elephant is in charge of the herds. And they can remember decades ago when there was a path to water that has been forgotten otherwise for years and not needed, but during times of drought, those matriarchs can being an entire herd back to water. And elephant poaching, one of the heartbreaking elements of it is the poachers target those biggest females who have the largest tusks. And so you lose institutional memory across herds. And it leads to conflict within the herds, as well.
GJELTENGrace Gabriel, something you said caught our attention, caught listeners' attention as well. And that's that a lot of people in China didn't realize that ivory came from elephants tusks. Is the elephant as an important a figure in sort of Chinese popular culture, as it is in America with our circuses and so forth? Or are Chinese people just not as familiar with the elephant as an animal?
GABRIELWell, it's both ways. In China, in fact millions of years ago, elephants lived as far north as north of Beijing. So under the Great Wall. But, you know, evolution has pushed elephants to a far southwestern corner of China today. Yes. A lot of the Chinese do not understand or know elephants as well as people in Africa. But I think there has been a lot of efforts going on in China from within China. More and more people realize the connection between the demand for ivory with the poaching of elephants.
GABRIELAnd the work that needs to be done, you know, we need to address every link on the trade chain. From poaching to trafficking to the demand of ivory. And really, education efforts need to stigmatize ivory. And by stigmatizing ivory we need the support of policy. If the law, such as the one that's being implemented in the U.S., clear laws to make ivory trade illegal. It's unambiguous law to make trade in ivory illegal, combined with vigorous enforcement and meaningful punishment for violators can help stigmatize ivory.
GABRIELAnd when people understand that this connection between ivory trade with poaching, you know, I myself -- I'm Chinese. I used to feel frustrated, our Chinese prejudice against elephants. And after surveys and work to reduce demand in China, I realized many Chinese, when they understand it, they will not consume ivory.
GJELTENVery interesting. Very important topic here, the future of African elephants and how it has been jeopardized by the trade in ivory. I want to thank my guests, Craig Hoover, chair of the Wildlife Trade and Conservation Branch of the International Affairs Program, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of the Interior. Also Bryan Christy, director of special investigations at National Geographic. And the woman from whom you just heard, Grace Ge Gabriel. She's regional director for Asia at the International Fund for Animal Welfare. I think our guests. Thanks to our callers for listening. I'm Tom Gjelten.