Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ivory Wars

I have an op-ed in the International Herald Tribune today arguing against militarized anti-poaching as a response to the increasing slaughter of African elephants.

Among other things, the op-ed was inspired by Bryan Christy's excellent article in this month's National Geographic about ivory consumption in Asia and beyond. Christy shows how easily ivory can be procured in markets in the Vatican, the Philippines, China, Thailand, and elsewhere and how easy it is to circumvent the international legal architecture that in theory bans the trade. Given such burgeoning demand for ivory and such innovation on all levels of its sale, going after the hunters, already a fraught enterprise, is doomed to fail.

Christy opens his article with a description of a recent elephant massacre in Cameroon. He stops short of labeling the hunters, but more credulous sources -- such as Jeffrey Gettleman in the NYTimes -- have repeated the accusation that they were "janjaweed," which has a flimsy foundation in fact. It's convenient for governments and conservationists to demonize ivory hunters as "LRA" or "janjaweed," but we really need more study of who the hunters are and the networks involved in the ivory trade. Ammunition tracing like that done by the Small Arms Survey would be a good place to start.

One final note: the Paris-based editors changed some things while I slept here on the West Coast, including deleting the name of the fellowship I hold. I'd like to acknowledge the generous support of the Ciriacy-Wantrup Fellowship and my colleagues in the Department of Geography at the University of California, Berkeley.

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