SciBlogs

ANZAC Day 2014 at Browns Bay Brendan Moyle Apr 25

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Today was the 99th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing in World War One, and for Australia and New Zealand, an event that left its mark on the numbers of men killed and wounded.  It is a poignant time. There is a sadness that propagates through the generation, in the stories, and in the quieter and sadder tone we grew up listening to.  Within my family, of the six men who went off to fight in World War One, only one came back alive.

It’s not a time for constant photography, or watching the event through the viewfinder.  So I mostly stood, listening to the service.  What I’ve tried to do is get a very small number of shots that depicted the event.

#1 Flagbearer at the start of the parade

#2 Getting a lift- not all are able to march in the parade anymore

#3 The Last Post- this is the most evocative from this morning. I was focusing on the bugler to the right of the picture (he can be seen very defocused there still) but as the notes from the Last Post played, I noticed the face and emotions on the young guard.  I switched over to focus on him

#4 Veteran lowering flag

#5 Veteran laying Wreath

#6 The young laying wreath

#7 Veteran with medals

#8 Veteran in Uniform

 

Tiger time in the Sping Thaw Brendan Moyle Apr 24

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Well as part of the last expedition to China we got up north. Very north.  There was still snow on the ground even though it was early spring.  This is one of the times when having a good relationship with the Chinese SFA matters. Got to see a couple of Amur tigers which I was able to photograph.

 

They seem to be enjoying the thaw and the sunshine.

 

 

 

Ivory Crimes: Supply or Demand Shock? Brendan Moyle Apr 22

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One of the unsettled issues with the surge in elephant poaching seen after 2008/9 is explaining why it took off. The scale represents a break from the past.  It seems inexplicable in terms of what we understood the drivers of poaching were.  These were basically either affluence in consumer markets (like Asia) or poor governance in African countries.  Neither of these changed dramatically in the 2008/9 period.

One popular theory advanced by some NGOs and conservationists is that there has been a massive demand shock. It’s claimed demand for ivory has exploded in China after CITES approved the 2008 shipment of stockpiled ivory from 4 African countries to China and Japan.  This explanation has a number of problems.  The first is it’s hard to reconcile it with other events in this era like the Global Financial Crisis.

The second problem is that it doesn’t fit the actual picture of illegal activity we have. Using the data collated from the ETIS we can see that the illegal activity in worked ivory pieces is pretty stable.  The harsh truth that while most seizures are of very small items of ivory, these seizures add up to a small total.  If there had been a demand shock, we’d see the worked ivory following the same trend as the raw.


raw vs worked


The second problem with the demand shock explanation is that these ivory items are simply not for sale. Contrary to what some NGOs may want you to believe, buying illegal ivory hasn’t become a national past-time in China. People aren’t joining queues to buy ivory. One thing we did in our last expedition was just eyeball the ID-cards for ivory-pieces for sale in registered retail stores.  They’re still carrying stocks that are several years old. We used locals to see how easy it was to find certain ivory pieces for sale legally and illegally.  The old chopsticks some small antique dealer may have under his counter, doesn’t actually add up to a lot of ivory.  This is a point that has already been made by the CITES Secretariat.  The numbers we’re getting out of China from a diverse group of organisations is just too low to reconcile with a demand explosion.

The other possibility is what we see with this rapid increase in poaching and raw ivory smuggling, is a supply shock.  There are two important events that have occurred since 2008/9.  The first is that Central Africa has got a lot less stable. One casualty of bitter civil conflicts is elephants. Spending on national parks and wildlife protection collapses, whilst money-hungry armed-groups try to cash in with poaching. That’s one supply-factor that has changed.

The second is that shipping costs after the GFC collapsed. Sending raw ivory from Africa to consumer markets for stockpiling got a lot cheaper. We’re not talking about say a 10 or 20% drop in costs. We’re looking costs that have fallen to less than a third what the used to be.  Nearly all of the illegal activity in the graph above, comes from seizures of raw ivory in shipping containers.

These are major and important events that are inconsistent with the demand-shock explanation. Civil war in Africa isn’t going to an increase in demand in China. Neither is cheaper shipping costs. What we seem to have is a significant supply-shock that criminal organisations are taking advantage of to store more raw ivory in final markets- like Asia.  We’re not seeing it for sale in the streets because it’s being stored and it’s likely not in their interests to be dumping lots of ivory into consumer markets.

One final piece of evidence is the time it takes to make a carving.  Raw ivory hits a production bottle-neck because turning ivory into a carving is a slow process.  Production is basically artisanal.  One thing we explored in China in various factories was production time.  To illustrate, the figure below, roughly 1 kg, would take an experienced carver about 2 months to complete, and an inexperienced carver 4 or 5 months. The throughput of raw ivory into carvings is not a rapid process.


A CWP Photo


 

 

 

Urban Grit Brendan Moyle Apr 16

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I think one of the challenges to travel photography is finding ways to capture the feel of a place.  The reason this becomes a challenge is that often, the feel is not the same as the tourist postcards. Beijing for instance, is not blue skies and the Forbidden Palace. It is a large urban city, and at times, that dominates your experience.

These are some shots I tried to get to capture some of that industrial, gritty feel. These were all taken with a Sony a900 camera and a 70-200/2.8 G lens. We’re in the general area of the Beijing Forestry University.

 

#1- The Tank

#2 The Crane

#3 Road Sign

#4- Impromptu Rubbish Bin

Ivory Crimes: Supply or Demand Shock? Brendan Moyle Apr 09

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One of the unsettled issues with the surge in elephant poaching seen after 2008/9 is explaining why it took off. The scale represents a break from the past.  It seems inexplicable in terms of what we understood the drivers of poaching were.  These were basically either affluence in consumer markets (like Asia) or poor governance in African countries.  Neither of these changed dramatically in the 2008/9 period.

One popular theory advanced by some NGOs and conservationists is that there has been a massive demand shock. It’s claimed demand for ivory has exploded in China after CITES approved the 2008 shipment of stockpiled ivory from 4 African countries to China and Japan.  This explanation has a number of problems.  The first is it’s hard to reconcile it with other events in this era like the Global Financial Crisis.

The second problem is that it doesn’t fit the actual picture of illegal activity we have. Using the data collated from the ETIS we can see that the illegal activity in worked ivory pieces is pretty stable.  The harsh truth that while most seizures are of very small items of ivory, these seizures add up to a small total.  If there had been a demand shock, we’d see the worked ivory following the same trend as the raw.

raw vs worked

The second problem with the demand shock explanation is that these ivory items are simply not for sale. Contrary to what some NGOs may want you to believe, buying illegal ivory hasn’t become a national past-time in China. People aren’t joining queues to buy ivory. One thing we did in our last expedition was just eyeball the ID-cards for ivory-pieces for sale in registered retail stores.  They’re still carrying stocks that are several years old. We used locals to see how easy it was to find certain ivory pieces for sale legally and illegally.  The old chopsticks some small antique dealer may have under his counter, doesn’t actually add up to a lot of ivory.  This is a point that has already been made by the CITES Secretariat.  The numbers we’re getting out of China from a diverse group of organisations is just too low to reconcile with a demand explosion.

The other possibility is what we see with this rapid increase in poaching and raw ivory smuggling, is a supply shock.  There are two important events that have occurred since 2008/9.  The first is that Central Africa has got a lot less stable. One casualty of bitter civil conflicts is elephants. Spending on national parks and wildlife protection collapses, whilst money-hungry armed-groups try to cash in with poaching. That’s one supply-factor that has changed.

The second is that shipping costs after the GFC collapsed. Sending raw ivory from Africa to consumer markets for stockpiling got a lot cheaper. We’re not talking about say a 10 or 20% drop in costs. We’re looking costs that have fallen to less than a third what the used to be.  Nearly all of the illegal activity in the graph above, comes from seizures of raw ivory in shipping containers.

These are major and important events that are inconsistent with the demand-shock explanation. Civil war in Africa isn’t going to an increase in demand in China. Neither is cheaper shipping costs. What we seem to have is a significant supply-shock that criminal organisations are taking advantage of to store more raw ivory in final markets- like Asia.  We’re not seeing it for sale in the streets because it’s being stored and it’s likely not in their interests to be dumping lots of ivory into consumer markets.

One final piece of evidence is the time it takes to make a carving.  Raw ivory hits a production bottle-neck because turning ivory into a carving is a slow process.  Production is basically artisanal.  One thing we explored in China in various factories was production time.  To illustrate, the figure below, roughly 1 kg, would take an experienced carver about 2 months to complete, and an inexperienced carver 4 or 5 months. The throughput of raw ivory into carvings is not a rapid process.

A CWP Photo

 

 

 

Unsafe for everyone Brendan Moyle Mar 31

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Fine particulates less than 2.5 micrometers across are recognised as hazardous to human populations.  The particles are so fine they cannot be easily expelled from the lungs. When the index value of these reaches between 300 to 500 then its is considered unsafe for everyone.  Below about 150 its unsafe for sensitive groups.  I took these shots one afternoon in Beijing when the rating was 400.



These pics show the effect of this pollution. You’re not seeing mist or cloud here. That’s fine particulates and emissions.

“Lost Skyline”

“Above the Road”






Shooting into the sun is usually not recommended. But I wanted a shot to show how much light the pollution was absorbing. And to emphasise the scene wasn’t a product of shooting later in the evening.






The colloquial term for the coughing that’s endemic in Beijing is the “Beijing Ke”- literally, the Beijing cough.  It’s often cured by leaving Beijing.






“Situation normal” – this just seemed poignant at the time.

I’m glad to be back in NZ. I only lasted an hour out there.

The dangerous economic ideas acquired by conservationists Brendan Moyle Mar 13

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One thing you quickly find is that many people bring their own ideas of how economics works to the debates on conservation policy. Some of these ideas are quite dangerous and yet, remain part of the folk-economics of conservation.  They are often employed by NGOs and the like.

The first is that legal trade fuels demand for illegal.  Now we do know that legal trade can generate pathways that lead to more poaching, but fundamentally, legal sellers and illegal are in competition. They’re in competition because the products are substitutes. Hermes isn’t going to demand more poached alligator or crocodile leather because they’re buying lots of legal leather. Legal trade doesn’t fuel demand for illegal. It crowds the illegal out (all else being equal).  That’s a big part of why the sustainable, regulated trade in crocodilian skins has crushed the illegal trade.

The caveat is there are pathways where legal trade does sustain illegal. One important is laundering where illegal wildlife products are merged into the market as sold as legal.  But this is a different mechanism to fueling demand. That’s the important point. Legal trade isn’t a panacea or instant solution. But the problems it creates aren’t demand-driven.

The second dangerous idea is that concentrating market power in incumbent sellers is bad for their business. This is nuts. Some of how most enduring conservation problems are a result of concentrating market power in large, criminal organisations. For ivory, we’ve choked back the export of legal ivory to an erratic trickle since 1990.  We have large, organised crime networks involved now. And the latest move to destroy ivory stocked by governments is further concentrating market power with the bad guys.  This is literally the only setting I’ve been in, when people argue and believe that competition will make the incumbents (the bad guys) better off.  By analogy, this would predict that Blackberry and Nokia would be much more profitable after Apple entered the market with the iPhone than before.

We’ve done the same thing for rhino horn. The quasi-legal export of rhino horns (as trophies) out of South Africa to key Asian states was tightened up- so poaching increased. Then as a response, it was banned. And poaching exploded. Concentrating market power in the bad guys is a pretty dangerous step to take if you’ve got nothing to counter their responses with.

The third dangerous idea is that everything must be explained in terms of demand. There is an astonishing neglect of the supply influences on poaching.  A good example is the explanations for the rapidly rising poaching levels of African elephants since 2008-9. A number of NGOs are certain that roughly in this period, middle-class Chinese all took evil pills, and became insatiable, avaricious consumers of ivory products.

Figure 1: Ivory Seizures increase rapidly from 2008-9

Raw Ivory Seizures

If we explore the supply-side then there’s actually two very important changes.  The first is the several Central African states have became pretty unstable and they’re a major source of ivory. Not a lot is being spent on parks management and rangers there, and various groups are cashing in ivory to pay for their warring.

The second is that shipping costs have collapsed. Globally, shipping costs were in the rise in the mid 2000s, reaching a peak in early 2008 before the Global Financial Crisis.  They then collapsed. They haven’t just fallen a little bit. They’ve dropped to about a third of pre-GFC levels.  This matters because the ivory has a unique aspect. It is the only wildlife product that is transported by the ton, in shipping containers. It’s a major part of the supply cost.  It’s just dropped. Indeed, the change is so dramatic, there’s evidence ivory in the early 200os is only been exported in this period.

And this supports a crucial observation. We’re not seeing the volumes of carvings for sale that match this influx.  This is a point the CITES Secretariat has made in its summaries of the evidence. If demand had really exploded to match the influx we seen in Figure 1, then we’d detect that with a big increase in number of retailers, stocking rates and turnover.  And nobody has seen that occur. Yes, demand for ivory is going up, but in line with the growing affluence in China. That’s a steady increase. It’s an important increase.  But it doesn’t come close to matching that surge in supply.

The Ivory Crush: When wishful thinking meets bad economics Brendan Moyle Mar 04

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Elephant poaching exploded in the late 2000s.  This has led to a range of measures to stop this traffic. Some are quite sensible- increased international cooperation and coordination on enforcement has had successes.  Both Operation Cobra (2013) and Operation Cobra II (2014) shattered some conspiracies in Africa and Asia.  Some measure, well, seem to be applied in haste and with little reason. The wave of ivory crushes initiated by the USA is one of these.

Countries have been acquiring ivory for years.  Some ivory is gathered from natural mortality and culls (in Africa).  Some ivory comes from seizures made by enforcement agencies.  A lot of this ivory is held in consumer-states.  Ivory is after all, a durable product.  It can be easily stored.

So, what’s the rationale behind destroying this ivory?  Advocates claim that it sends a signal that this time, the international community is serious. That by destroying legal stockpiles of ivory, consumers will realise that buying ivory products is bad. This is part of a long line of similar gambits. Kenya’s graphic burn of 12 tons of ivory in 1989 was supposed to do just this. The CITES Appendix Listing (1989) leading to the ban in international trade in ivory (1990) also was supposed to do this.

I suppose this could work if Asian consumers of ivory products wanted the approval of conservationists- especially Western conservationists- more than anything else. If on the other hand, centuries of cultural use is the more important driver then we’d see persistent demand over decades.  Yeah. I think that question has been answered.

The problem with the ivory-crush is perception.  With little forethought, it is just being presumed that buyers of ivory will perceive ivory to be less desirable.  The risk is that it bolsters the rarity-value of ivory.  That those in the market will think it becomes even more valuable. The important thing is not to change the perceptions of people who aren’t in the ivory market.  That’s a lot of China or Japan.  The important thing is the perceptions of the people actually in the market.

This is what we warned in our South China Morning Post op-ed.  If the buyers and sellers in this market come to regard ivory as more valuable, then it’s not going to slow down poaching. Prices will go up as a result of this perception. It will actually encourage more poaching.  We are creating a perception that there is a crisis with elephants, that ivory will become scarcer. Surprisingly, there are already early signs that this is occurring.

One seller at an ivory stall in Beijing’s Tianya Antique Market commented that “the government’s destruction of its ivory stocks has actually done us some good.” He explained that while smaller merchants were finding it harder to source quality goods, the larger ones still had suppliers and were benefiting from higher prices [link]

Initially, Hofford says, the move to destroy so much ivory appears to have driven up prices by about 10 percent in Hong Kong. [link]

Let me conclude with out SCMP Op-Ed

Conserving elephants is a laudable international goal. Destroying ivory stockpiles has no record of success and it has grave risks that are being overlooked in the rush to destroy. Effective policies must be based on compelling evidence and not on popular, wishful thinking.

I can understand the motivation to be seen to be ‘doing something‘ to reduce the illegal trade in ivory.  But this does not mean we should ditch the principles of good policy-making. It does not mean that we should be taking risky gambles.  The premise that making something scarcer will reduce its market value is extraordinary, and needs compelling evidence. None has been provided.

The Ivory Crush: When wishful thinking meets bad economics Brendan Moyle Mar 04

No Comments

Elephant poaching exploded in the late 2000s.  This has led to a range of measures to stop this traffic. Some are quite sensible- increased international cooperation and coordination on enforcement has had successes.  Both Operation Cobra (2013) and Operation Cobra II (2014) shattered some conspiracies in Africa and Asia.  Some measure, well, seem to be applied in haste and with little reason. The wave of ivory crushes initiated by the USA is one of these.

Countries have been acquiring ivory for years.  Some ivory is gathered from natural mortality and culls (in Africa).  Some ivory comes from seizures made by enforcement agencies.  A lot of this ivory is held in consumer-states.  Ivory is after all, a durable product.  It can be easily stored.

So, what’s the rationale behind destroying this ivory?  Advocates claim that it sends a signal that this time, the international community is serious. That by destroying legal stockpiles of ivory, consumers will realise that buying ivory products is bad. This is part of a long line of similar gambits. Kenya’s graphic burn of 12 tons of ivory in 1989 was supposed to do just this. The CITES Appendix Listing (1989) leading to the ban in international trade in ivory (1990) also was supposed to do this.

I suppose this could work if Asian consumers of ivory products wanted the approval of conservationists- especially Western conservationists- more than anything else. If on the other hand, centuries of cultural use is the more important driver then we’d see persistent demand over decades.  Yeah. I think that question has been answered.

The problem with the ivory-crush is perception.  With little forethought, it is just being presumed that buyers of ivory will perceive ivory to be less desirable.  The risk is that it bolsters the rarity-value of ivory.  That those in the market will think it becomes even more valuable. The important thing is not to change the perceptions of people who aren’t in the ivory market.  That’s a lot of China or Japan.  The important thing is the perceptions of the people actually in the market.

This is what we warned in our South China Morning Post op-ed.  If the buyers and sellers in this market come to regard ivory as more valuable, then it’s not going to slow down poaching. Prices will go up as a result of this perception. It will actually encourage more poaching.  We are creating a perception that there is a crisis with elephants, that ivory will become scarcer. Surprisingly, there are already early signs that this is occurring.

One seller at an ivory stall in Beijing’s Tianya Antique Market commented that “the government’s destruction of its ivory stocks has actually done us some good.” He explained that while smaller merchants were finding it harder to source quality goods, the larger ones still had suppliers and were benefiting from higher prices [link]

Initially, Hofford says, the move to destroy so much ivory appears to have driven up prices by about 10 percent in Hong Kong. [link]

Let me conclude with out SCMP Op-Ed

Conserving elephants is a laudable international goal. Destroying ivory stockpiles has no record of success and it has grave risks that are being overlooked in the rush to destroy. Effective policies must be based on compelling evidence and not on popular, wishful thinking.

I can understand the motivation to be seen to be ‘doing something‘ to reduce the illegal trade in ivory.  But this does not mean we should ditch the principles of good policy-making. It does not mean that we should be taking risky gambles.  The premise that making something scarcer will reduce its market value is extraordinary, and needs compelling evidence. None has been provided.

Summer Singers Brendan Moyle Feb 23

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The cicadas have been particularly vocal this month.  This has been helped by the numbers of them.  The local population has exploded.  Oddly, the neighbour’s cat had decided they’re good to hunt.  Also to eat- the crunchy sounds of a cicada succumbing to the jaws of a domestic cat are interesting.  

I’ve got a couple of shots of the ‘green’ species kihikihi wawa Amphipsalta zealandica here.

1. “The Singer” – the wings are blurred as it vibrates the sound.

2. “The Embrace” – the female is clinging to the grass stalk, while the male is err, clinging to the female :)

 

Both shots are from my “Small beasties” album.

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