Sunday, June 28, 2009

Asian elephants and poaching


The pressure on wildlife is unrelenting, often ugly, and world-wide. This week another story about elephant destruction came across in my email box. It was not the usual African story, but came from Indonesia, where crop-raiding elephants have been creating problems for villagers for many years. There is an excellent video from a few years back about efforts to protect crops from the ravages of these animals, and the ugly role of the pulp and paper and palm oil industries in the decimation of forests that has led to the creatures being crowded into ever-shrinking habitats. This story is different.

It appears that poachers after ivory have turned to a cheap and deadly, but utterly indiscriminate form of killing. In one of my regular group mails from the WDIN - Wildlife Disease News Digest the headline in the accompanying picture appeared.

The link lets one further into the story and it turns out that poachers after ivory have used cyanide-laced fruit to kill Sumatran elephants, an endangered sub-species of the Asian elephant.

This picture appeared with the story.

This is just one of many places where Asian elephants, that used to roam in their hundreds of thousands across much of the continent, have taken massive hits. Current populations, which are the result of a combination of guesswork, old (very old) data and some science, put the entire population of all sub-species at no more than 30,000 to 50,000.

A very comprehensive report came out earlier this year from TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, about the ivory trade in Myanmar (Burma) and the neighbouring countries of Thailand and China. It is 40 pages long, and anyone interested can get hold of a copy of the entire pdf document through TRAFFIC headquarters. The citation reads Chris R. Shepherd and Vincent Nijman (2008): Elephant and Ivory Trade in Myanmar. TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia. ISBN 9789833393169

I have lifted just one small segment from the executive summary of the report.
"Illegal trade in ivory and other Asian Elephant Elephas maximus products remains widespread, especially in markets along Myanmar’s international borders. In 2006,TRAFFIC surveyed 14 markets in Myanmar and three border markets in Thailand and China, and found some 9000 pieces of ivory and 16 whole tusks for sale, representing the ivory of an estimated116 bulls. Illegal killing and capture of elephants for trade continues to be a major cause of decline for Myanmar’s wild Asian Elephant populations."

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