OCT 2018  
Ivory Stockpiles and the Vanishing Pachyderms

In late August 2018, authorities in Angola arrested two Vietnamese nationals in connection with a massive seizure of wildlife products, which included 800 kg of worked and raw elephant ivory, 27 rhino horn pieces, and almost 900 kg of pangolin scales. Further investigations led officers to premises in the Sao Paulo area of Luanda, where they found two ivory processing workshops, 535 kg raw and 263 kg of worked ivory, 895 kg of pangolin scales, and 10 kg of medicinal plant products. The seizure came in the wake of a Vietnamese customs official being given a 16-year sentence for stealing seized ivory and rhino horn from a customs warehouse. The Vietnamese government had tightened its laws with harsher penalties this year, after coming under scrutiny for being both a consumer and transit country in wildlife crime. In early July 2017, Hong Kong Customs had seized about 7,200 kg of ivory tusks amounting to an estimated market value of about $72 million on July 4 at the Kwai Chung Customhouse Cargo Examination Compound. The tusks were being shipped in a container from Malaysia beneath frozen fish. This was a record high over the past 30 years. The seizures augur a disturbing trend in the South- and Southeast Asian region; and correspond to a spurt in India's domestic ivory market, as evident from a huge clampdown in August 2016, when 74 operatives were picked up from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Delhi, and West Bengal in a matter of months.

Measures Taken to Stop Poaching

The trade in wildlife species is a multimillion-dollar operation with a worldwide network. Hence, on September 3, 2018, TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network which is a joint programme of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), that works to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature, participated in the South African Association of Freight Forwarders (SAAFF) Congress in Cape Town. The occasion was used to raise awareness on how the illegal wildlife trade exploits freight forwarding to expand operations.

The International Federation of Freight Forwarder Associations (FIATA) has already taken a stern view on illegal wildlife trade in recent years. The international nature of the trade, though, was understood decades ago. As far back as in the 1960s, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was conceived as an international agreement between governments. The aim of CITES was to ensure that international trade in wild animals and plants is so regulated that it does not threaten their very survival. Drafted as a result of a resolution adopted at a meeting of the International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN) in 1963, CITES was finally agreed upon by 80 countries in 1973, and came into force in July 1975. Today, it accords protection to more than 35,000 species of animals and plants.

The CITES programme for Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE), was established by the Conference of the Parties (CoP) to CITES at its 10th Meeting at Harare in 1997, in accordance with the provisions on trade in elephant specimens. The MIKE Programme was implemented in 2001, and aims to inform and improve decision-making on elephants by measuring trends in levels of illegal killing of elephants, identifying factors associated with those trends, and building capacity for elephant management in range states. MIKE currently operates in 30 countries in Africa through 60 designated sites, and 13 countries in Asia, through 27 designated sites.

Range and Distribution of Elephants and their Species

Elephants occur in both Africa and Asia, with the two continents accounting for distinctive species. The African Elephant or Loxodonta africana is much more massive in proportions, with both the male and female elephants equipped with tusks. These are divided into two sub-species: the African bush elephant and the African forest elephant.

The Asian elephant or Elephas maximus is much shorter; and tusks are seen only on some male elephants. There are three recognized sub-species of the Asian elephant:

the Elephas maximus maximus of Sri Lanka;

the Elephas maximus indicus (or Indian elephant) , which occurs all over mainland Asia, that is, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Laos, the Malay Peninsula, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam, besides India;

the Elephas maximus Sumatranus found in Sumatra

Naturalists, though, now feel that the Sri Lankan variety does not deserve to be classified as a species different from that found on the mainland. Instead, the elephant found in Borneo, Elephas maximus borneinsis, as per genetic studies, is being looked upon as a distinct sub-species.

Ivory is the prime reason behind poaching of elephants and their dwindling populations. Hence, the demand for ivory tusks has hit African elephant populations hard, since both the males and females of the species have tusks. However, ivory from the Asian elephant is considered superior, and better suited for carving. The greed for ivory is so great that in December 2012, the only male elephant in Dulung Reserve, in Jorhat, Assam, was cruelly beheaded and hacked into pieces by poachers.

The demand for the Asian elephant's tusks has resulted in a skewed sex ratio, with females grossly outnumbering males in herds. A 2013 study by Raman Sukumar et al. conducted in the Anaimalai hills showed that adult males made up just 2.9 per cent of the population, while females comprised 42.3 per cent. This kind of ratio can make a population functionally extinct. Rampant poaching has also resulted in several males in Asia being born without tusks. Naturalists see this as something that shall have a bad bearing on the quality of offspring in the near future.

Elephant Poaching in Asia

In 2010, elephant poaching was reported to be at the highest levels in a decade. Since then, 13 Asian countries have come together following the 'Towards Zero Poaching in Asia' symposium held in Kathmandu in 2015. The symposium was attended by India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam, with partner organizations, such as CITES, INTERPOL, UNODC, IUCN, TRAFFIC, US Department of Justice, amongst others. It had adopted five recommendations:

Swift and decisive action to elevate the importance and effectiveness of anti-poaching initiatives and cooperation amongst all relevant ministries, departments, and agencies within their borders, while at the same time strengthening international cooperation in the face of this serious criminal activity;

Adoption of the Zero Poaching Tool Kit and assessment of current anti-poaching responses to determine improvements and close serious gaps;

Increase and improve collaboration as a successful anti-poaching response is critically dependant on effectively engaging a diverse number of law enforcement agencies, including efforts to break trafficking syndicates and combat organized crime;

Improve standards, training, and support for rangers, other frontline staff, police, and prosecutors to promote best practices from landscape-based protection up to effective case preparation for offenders.

Commit to identifying a zero poaching national contact point to coordinate trans-boundary efforts to stop poaching effectively.

Though several initiatives taken up jointly by countries in the region in subsequent years have borne fruit, it is not as if risks to pachyderm populations have disappeared. Poaching continues to remain a serious threat. According to the Wildlife Protection Society of India's figures, 121 elephants were poached between 2008 and 2011. One of the major problems is the link between illegal poaching of wildlife and militancy, both in India and in other parts of the world. When a worldwide ban was imposed on ivory trade by CITES in 1989, two countries, Zimbabwe and South Africa opposed it on the ground that sales from ivory trade were being used by them for conservation. They also claimed sustainable use of forest resources. But Zimbabwe was found to be double counting its elephants, while South Africa was found using money from ivory trade to fund Mozambique's rebel army, RENAMO, to destabilize its neighbour Mozambique.

Nearer home, the Maoist Red Corridor in India has been found to have links with the international ivory market in Nepal. The rise in Maoist insurgency has corresponded with increased poaching of elephants and other wildlife. This is why the 2015 symposium of Asian countries holds such a great significance. It has seen a good deal of cooperation between India and Nepal in checking poaching, while China's mammoth initiatives to educate its people on the evils of the trade have also had an effect in the international trade in animal products.

Situation in India

However, poaching does not pose the only danger to elephant populations. In its recently released report, the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) has blamed the inadequate food, lack of veterinary facilities, and cruelty meted out to young cubs separated from their mothers for being reared for entertainment. Fragmented habitat, climate change, dwindling elephant corridors, and an ever-growing human population—besides poaching—pose grave dangers to the Indian native species, which currently numbers around 27,785 and 31,368.

According to Project Gajah, which was initiated in 1992 to augment elephant populations and end poaching, the elephant range in India has shrunk by more than 70 per cent since the 1960s. Besides, only one-fourth of the reserves enjoy protected area status. This has resulted in human-elephant conflicts in many parts of India, with nearly 400 elephants and 100 people losing their lives annually.

In eastern India, particularly in North Bengal and Odisha, speeding trains kill many elephants, particularly cubs. Burgeoning human populations encroaching into forest tracts or designated animal corridors has also resulted in increasing human-animal conflict. Habitat destruction may compel herds to move out to forage for food in areas hitherto unfrequented, resulting in deaths of both elephants and humans.

Ivory Craftsmanship and the Trade

Surendra Varma's study on the Bandipur Tiger Reserve (BTR) in southern India blamed the lack of strategy, and the remoteness of certain sections of the BTR for the poaching of elephants. In his opinion, better facilities for ground staff, better coordination and involvement of officers was needed. Varma called for improved inter-state coordination too, to check the nexus between ivory traders and poachers, especially since the ivory trade in south India thrived at the tri-junction of Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu.

In India, another factor must be taken into account. Ivory craftsmen thrive in Kerala, Odisha, Rajasthan, and West Bengal, and their products have always commanded very high prices. There was a furore, hence, when a ban was imposed on ivory trade. The government took pains to re-train craftsmen in alternate carving methods, with ivory getting replaced by camel bone, buffalo horn, and the like. But the resulting products do not command even half the prices that ivory could command. The dissatisfaction, hence, continues to goad poachers to risk entering jungles in the wettest of monsoons.

The solution does not lie in just shutting down the demand for ivory by educating populations. Alternative livelihood options that are just as paying are the real solutions. Demand determines supply. When there is no demand for ivory, there shall be no poaching at all. Tribals are known to serve as guides for poachers in the absence of other means of livelihood. If they are imparted vocational skills and made to promote ecotourism, poaching might be curbed in an easier manner.

Dr Rina Mukherji is an independent journalist with more than 25 years of experience. She holds a doctorate in African studies and has several media and academic awards to her credit.

© TERI 2017

Nominations open for CSP Today India awards 2013

The inaugural CSP Today India awards ceremony takes place on March 12, and CSP developers, EPCs, suppliers and technology providers can now be nominated.

CSP has made tremendous progress since the announcement of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission in 2010. With Phase I projects now drawing closer to completion, the first milestone in India’s CSP learning curve is drawing closer. CSP Today has chosen the next CSP Today India conference (12-13 March, New Delhi) as the time for the industry to reflect upon its progress and celebrate its first achievements.

At the awards ceremony, industry leaders will be recognized for their achievements in one of 4 categories: CSP India Developer Award, CSP India Engineering Performance Award, CSP India Technology and Supplier Award, and the prestigious CSP India Personality of the Year.

Matt Carr, Global Events Director at CSP Today, said at the opening of nominations that “CSP Today are excited to launch these esteemed awards, which will enhance the reputation of their recipients. I am particularly excited to launch the CSP India Personality of the Year award, a distinguished honor for the industry figure deemed worthy by their peers.”

All eyes will be on the CSP Today India 2013 Awards when nomination entry closes on February 4 and the finalists are announced on February 11. The awards are open to all industry stakeholders to nominate until February 4 at or by e-mail to

Matt Carr
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