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Blood Ivory Smugglers

Blood Ivory Smugglers

February 2012: An hour later, word of gunshots reached us – I was with Mary Rice and Paul Redman from EIA and David Daballen from Save the Elephants – and as the sun rose the next morning we stood over the body of another matriarch from the same group, named Hope, her tusks hacked from her face and her blood freshly pooling in the dirt.


Such carcasses of slaughtered elephants are becoming an increasingly common sight across Africa’s wilderness areas. China’s flourishing ivory markets are believed to be a key reason behind the sharp increase in poaching. Courtesy:EIA 


The look of horror and dismay on those that ‘knew’ her mirrored our own despondency. Local villagers were also very angry at her loss because she and her calves were familiar visitors to this area.


For Dave Currey, co-founder of the Environment Investigation Agency (EIA), the sight of the slaughtered elephant took him back to 1988 when his iconic pictures of two decomposing pachyderms had spearheaded a massive EIA campaign to stop ivory poaching in Kenya. Now, 24 years later, the upsurge in poaching had brought him back – this time to film undercover footage of the ivory trade for the film, Blood Ivory Smugglers. Reflecting on his experiences, he wrote, “As we and the film crew from Red Earth Studio filmed a community anti-poaching team near the Tanzanian border, another message came through: gunmen had raided villages in the area. The brave Maasai scouts left the gaze of our cameras to protect their people. The scourge of the ivory trade, its corruption, weapons and murder, is back.


The 1988 EIA campaign was a huge success spurring the African Elephant Conservation Act which prohibited the import and export of ivory. A world ban on ivory was passed soon after in 1989. With new laws in place, Africa’s elephants, which had dwindled to around 600,000, slowly began to recover. Unfortunately, in 2008, CITES allowed China to open up its ivory markets and restart its trade saying, “China has acted rather successfully against its own illegal domestic ivory market…” It seemed as though the lessons learnt in 1988 had been forgotten.


It has been some time since I have concentrated heavily on the ivory trade and more than two decades since I had traversed the globe working undercover, providing evidence to support the EIA campaign in 1988/89. But what has struck me so clearly is that the same ingredients for the massacre of hundreds of thousands of elephants in the ’80s are again at the forefront. Perhaps most startling is the fact that so many of the same players are making so many of the same mistakes all over again. It appears that such misinformation continues to hoodwink decision-makers. I can’t believe the same people are spreading the same nonsense. Investigations carried out in China showed then, and show now, that China has failed utterly to act against its own illegal domestic ivory market. This single act of opening up the Chinese ivory market has already resulted in an appalling loss of human life in Africa as poaching has increased, provided the money for increased corruption and, of course, littered the Continent with elephant carcasses.


The huge profits associated with the illegal wildlife trade means that even legally permitted auctions are not sufficient to satisfy wildlife traders as this confiscated ivory reveals. Thirteen large seizures were made in 2011 in contrast to six  in 2010. Credit:Dave Currey


The documentary


Made by London production company Red Earth Studio for National Geographic, the hard-hitting documentary ‘Blood Ivory Smugglers’ follows EIA investigators as they go undercover, posing as ivory buyers to penetrate markets in China in a bid to discover what is driving the black market trade despite the country being allowed to purchase ivory at CITES-sanctioned auctions. Using covert filming to piece together the evidence, their findings indicate that the Chinese Government is profiteering on this ‘legitimate’ ivory by selling it internally at vastly inflated prices.


To watch the trailer, visit https://www.eiainternational.org/new-trailer-for-eia-filmblood-ivory-smugglers


Elephants symbolise Africa


Protecting Africa’s elephants is not a luxury. With an increasing human population that is already facing the brunt of water shortages, Africa’s wilderness areas and the wildlife they harbour provide the last hope. The pachyderms also have immense cultural and economical significance. As Dave Currey learnt:


This time I was with a group of Samburu elders who wanted to tell me how painful the elephant poaching was to their community. They explained how so much of their culture is based around elephants. For instance, when a new bride enters her new home, a fire is lit with the dung from a young elephant. “Without elephants we can’t marry” I was told. When this wounded elephant had wandered onto their land, it collapsed just before reaching water. The villagers claim to have been beaten by the authorities because it died on their land.


Items made from ivory have been popular for eons. But the ramifications of purchasing these are immense – as Africa’s pachyderms dwindle, so do her forests and her rivers. Courtesy:EIA 


For a country ravaged by civil war and natural disasters, the elephants provide a win-win solution for local communities who can earn a decent living from eco-tourism.


EIA reported that 50 elephants are being killed per month in Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve and, according to monitoring agencies, Kenya lost 47 elephants to poachers in 2007 and 271 in 2009. To smuggle the tusks, poachers were turning to shipping, using false documents and bribes to allow for smooth passage. escort in malta maltagirls.net


While exact figures on how much ivory is being smuggled is difficult to obtain, it is clear that there has been a huge increase in the number of large-scale seizures. In 2011, over 800 kg. (1,760 pounds) of ivory was seized. There were at least 13 large seizures last year, compared to six in 2010 with a total weight of just under 1,000 kg. (2,200 pounds).


In Currey’s words: Having travelled the world for so many years, I am fortunate to have seen many wild elephants in huge herds, these extraordinary architects of their environment. I have also met some of the most wonderful people risking their lives to keep the poaching at bay. They all recognise the value of live elephants to the ecosystem and, through tourism, to the economy.


For many African communities, the slaughter of elephants is a tragic sight. Their cultures are closely entwined with these majestic creatures – in fact, in some, a man who has killed an elephant will be hard-pressed to find a wife. Yet, it is these trinkets, and not the fate of these communities, that is valued. Courtesy:EIA 


One Samburu elder explained to me that in Samburu culture, if a warrior kills an elephant, he and his family are considered cursed. Nobody will marry their children.  Perhaps I’ve smelt death too often and have become jaded, but it seems to me that a good old- fashioned curse might be equally applied to those who repeatedly fuel the ivory trade from afar. Although I would draw the line at cursing their children, at the very least their credibility should be thrown into a steaming cauldron, never to pollute our beautiful world again.


About EIA


EIA works undercover in countries across the world to investigate environmental crimes. The data collected is used to back campaigns for change and stricter laws to curb environment damage. The films produced by the EIA are used by enforcement agencies including Interpol and the World Customs Organisation.


For more on EIA visit: https://www.eia-international.org/about-eia.


by EIA, Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXXII No. 1, February 2012.


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