SciBlogs

Ivory News: Some Snippets Brendan Moyle Feb 12

No Comments

Some snippets of news on the illegal trade in ivory from around the world.

  • The USA has been contemplating a ban (or moratorium) on the domestic sale of ivory items.  This would mean even antiques and other pre-ban items could no longer be sold.  This now looks almost certain.  I’d expect an announcement soon.
  • From the South China Morning Post, an Op-Ed written by Daniel Stiles and myself, arguing that the recent ivory crushes are a gamble that could play into the hands of the criminal organisations stocking ivory.
  • Following recent destruction, anecdotal evidence that ivory prices have risen, reported in the Telegraph.
  • Operation Cobra II was concluded in coordination with African, Asian and North American law enforcment agencies.  In the haul was 36 rhino horns and 3000kg of ivory.  There have been 400 arrests of people in Asia and Africa.

tusks

 

Fresh from the camera: Kereru Brendan Moyle Feb 11

No Comments

New Zealand has two native pigeons, and  the kereru is the species found on the main islands.  It is a large bird, found in native forest, and for these reasons seems to be a ponderous flier.  It is also an important seed-disperser.  It consumes many native berries that are later deposited elsewhere.  Sadly it’s also considered threatened as populations are in decline.

The main challenges to photographing keruru is they like living up in the tree canopy.  If your goal is to take lots of photos of pigeon-backsides, as you look upwards into the branches, you’ll be very happy.  To get photos of the bird acting naturally means finding a way to get both close and high. 

I managed that this weekend, finding a position that got me right next to the ripe fruit of a cabbage-tree (or Cordyline).  There’s a few shots to go through, and the canopy issue still means having to shot at a low shutter speed, but I got a few keepers.  These shots were taken with a 300mm prime, and I’ve been close enough not to need to crop. Enjoy :)

Ivory Demand: What to do? Brendan Moyle Feb 10

No Comments

The last legal shipment of ivory from Africa to China and Japan was approved of in 2008, and sent in 2009.  CITES decided that no further exports would occur until a Decision-Making-Mechanism (DMM) was designed and approved of.  This was supposed to take 8-9 years.  It still hasn’t been approved.  To some extent this stymied the proposal of Tanzania at the Bangkok CITES meeting to get approval to put their stockpile on the market.

The quantity of ivory imported by China and Japan, has had to be rationed out over a decade.  This has greatly hindered the supply-side effect of this on the black-market.  If you’re only putting in 4-5 tons of legal ivory a year, you’re a minor and small player now.  The illegal market is much larger.  We have some 30-40 tons of raw ivory being seized annually now, and a lot more must be getting through.

So this comes back to can we reduce demand for ivory?  This after all was what the 1989 CITES decision to list African elephants on Appendix I was supposed to do.  It’s what ivory-destruction- going back to Kenya’s burn of 12 tons in 1989- was supposed to do.  And in some markets- notably the US and Europe, demand for ivory has fallen.

Is it going to work in China?  Demand for ivory has fallen in Japan.  In Japan demand for ivory was driven by a name-seal or hanko.  This was given to young people upon maturity and was used for signing documents and other financial instruments.  Demand has fallen because with an aging population, there’s less of that demographic.  It’s also fallen because of financial-innovations.  With a lot more transactions occurring electronically, hankos have less demand.

In China the main demographic is getting larger and growing wealthier.  There’s also a much broader range of products sold in China.  The cultural element is also much more significant than the US or Europe.  Ivory has been a highly valued product in China for centuries.  If demand for ivory is going to fall in China, it’ll likely do so slowly and over a great many years.

Figure 1: Ivory Carving (about 1 m long)

I don’t see that the blanket ‘kill-demand’ approach is going to work here.  So if we’re going to try demand reduction, then I think we need to be a bit more strategic.  What I think we need as the first step, is shifting demand out of the illegal-market into the legal.  The reasons are as follows.

  1. The legal market is dominated by a small number of producers with market-power.  They already use that to reduce demand- by pushing prices higher.  High prices are a good way to reduce demand, and these guys are doing it.  So you’d end up with less ivory sold than now, at higher prices.
  2. It doesn’t fight centuries of cultural tradition.  Education campaigns have been ongoing in China since 1996.  I think we have to recognise that this is not the USA.  Ivory carvings are in some ways, like whale-bone carvings in NZ.  There’s a cultural component that isn’t going to disappear because people from other cultures don’t approve.
  3. It saves face for the Chinese.  State policy in China is to nurture an ivory-carving industry to preserve an artisanal tradition.  This support the legal, kill the illegal, gives the Chinese a palatable compromise solution.
  4. It sustains a reason for enforcement.  The political reality in China is the guys that manage the legal ivory trade, aren’t the guys that do the enforcement.  There’s about three agencies involved (Police, Customs, SFA).  Policing the illegal market depends on incentives.  There’s not a lot of evidence that the police care a great deal about the sale of illegal ivory.  The fate of Africa’s elephant populations isn’t something they find gripping.  Enforcement happens because there are political reasons for doing so, and part of that political-aspect is the existence of the legal market.  If there is no legal market to try to protect or perpetuate, it’s hard seeing who is left with a strong inventive to combat the illegal.

 

 

 

Good weather not required- a visit to Te Puia Brendan Moyle Feb 07

No Comments

As most of us know, this summer hasn’t quite been up to the relentless hot weather and clear summer days of the past.  We did manage a trip to the popular tourist spot of Te Puia in Rotorua, but even then, rain shortened the stay.  This meant there were not chances for geysers going off on a background of blue sky.

 

I took a different tack therefore, with shots I thought would be interesting with the overcast conditions.  The first is of a thermal pool, framed by the rocks in the foreground and vegetation in the rear.  The second is of a stream in the area, wreathed in steam.  These photos are in my “It’s a beautiful world” album

The final shot I thought merited a black-and-white conversion.  This is also in my “Colour Free” album.

The Missing Ivory Puzzle Brendan Moyle Feb 04

No Comments

Poaching levels of African elephants have surged to an appalling level.  Since 2007 the illegal traffic in ivory has more than doubled [1].  By 2011 the numbers of elephants killed annually was estimated to be 25,000 animals [1].

The increase in poaching is reflected in the seizure rates of raw ivory.  This seizure metric is supported by evidence from shrinking wild populations and collation of kill reports [1],[2].

Figure 1: Raw Ivory Seizures

figure 1

The challenge is to explain this dramatic surge in seizures.  Why are over 20,000 elephants now being poached?  Poaching levels accelerated in the late 2000s and the estimated volume of ivory trafficked has greatly increased.  Has demand for ivory in a short space time increased by perhaps over double?

A popular view is the 2008 sale of ivory to China triggered a leap in demand for carvings [3],[4].  Nonetheless there is little evidence that demand and consumption has risen to match the volumes of ivory being smuggled [5].

“…The Secretariat saw little evidence of sufficient demand and consumption that might drive the indisputably significant smuggling levels. Surveys by NGOs, whilst wider-reaching that those of the Secretariat, also seem to show demand levels below what is being illegally-harvested and smuggled”. CITES Secretariat, n22.

Another possibility is that it is being stockpiled for speculative motives.  Ivory is extremely durable.  It can be, and is, easily stored.

Figure 2: Tusks in Storeroom of Chinese Factory.  Buckets of water are used to maintain humidity

Figure 3: Tusks from South Africa. Tusks come in 4 quality grades

One of the big obstacles to turning ivory into carvings for sale is the carving process. The process is still artisanal.  Carvings aren’t produced in some assembly-line process.  It is still done by one carver, working usually by themselves.  In China the system is based on apprentices learning how to carve ivory from more skilled carvers (masters) until they qualify.  Factories are still small scale.

Figure 4: Ivory Carver. Electric tools were adopted in the 1990s.

Figure 5: Individual Workstations at a Factory

While we don’t know how big the unregistered (and illegal) carving industry is in China, we know the legal goes through about 4-5 tons of elephant ivory annually.  Numbers thrown out for the unregistered are 20 to 30 tons.  Given seizures in China, that’s probably in the right order of magnitude.  There hasn’t been a massive increase in the number of registered retail stores (136 to 145).  The quantities of ivory seized from illegal sellers haven’t been trending up.  This is why the CITES Secretariat made the earlier observation.  Yes, demand in China has gone up and that’s part of a long term trend based on increasing affluence.  But it hasn’t gone up by a level that accounts for all the ivory being smuggled.

We know have annual seizures of approximating 40 tons of raw ivory.  We don’t know how much is getting through but presumable a lot more.  Even a very conservative estimate would give us- for argument sake- an extra 100 tons every year.  It’s straining credibility to claim all of this is being churned out as carvings for sale in East Asian markets.  The production process is far too slow to absorb these quantities.

Figure 6: Apprentice Carver

If you want to expand output, you need to hire and train new carvers.  Officially it takes about 4-5 years to get past an apprentice status. Unofficially an apprentice can be carving simple but commercially valuable items in about 2 years.  Again, this doesn’t suggest production can rapidly and easily expand to meet the influx of ivory.

This suggests the popular view is basically wrong.  It’s more likely that most of the smuggled ivory is being stored for speculative reasons instead.

All figures above taken by me during research in 2013.  Full-sized versions can be obtained for media purposes.

[1] CITES, IUCN/SSC and TRAFFIC International., 2013. Status of African elephant populations and levels of illegal killing and the illegal trade in ivory: A report to the African Elephant Summit December 2013. Available from https://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/african_elephant_summit_background_document_2013_en.pdf.

[2] Underwood, F.M., Burn R.W., Milliken, T., 2013. Dissecting the Illegal Ivory Trade: An Analysis of Ivory Seizures Data. PLoS ONE 8(10), e76539. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0076539.

[3] IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare), 2012. Making a Killing: A 2011 Survey of Ivory Markets in China. IFAW, Yarmouth Port.

[4] Rice, M., 2012.  Legal ivory trading severely undermines elephant conservation. The Ecologist 8 November. Available from http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/1669938/legal_ivory_trading_severely_undermines_elephant_conservation.html

[5] CITES Secretariat., 2010. Monitoring of Illegal Trade in Ivory and Other Elephant Specimens.  Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife Fauna and Flora, 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties, Doha (Qatar), 13-15 March.  CoP15 Doc. 44.1 (Rev. 1).

Time on the beach Brendan Moyle Jan 22

1 Comment

One of the consequences of our fondness for beaches is pressure on native birds that live there.  Whilst sea gulls may seem very robust, other birds are less so.  One is the endangered NZ dotterel or tūturiwhatu.  There’s only about 1700 birds left of this species, and the North Island populations are only found in the upper north.  The nesting strategy for this bird is a simple scrape in the ground.  This means the nests are easily damaged or disturbed by well, almost anything.  This includes people, dogs, SUVs etc. 

Close to where I live is the Okura reserve and there is an isolated sweep of beach (near the old Dancre cottage) that has a small population.  Some days I’ve hiked out there with one of my sons and we’ve just sat, watching them through binoculars.  I have for sometime, been trying to get some good pictures of them as well.  Open beach is not easy to get close to birds with, and avoid startling or scaring them.

Last week I succeeded with a bit of planning and a bit of luck.  One the planning side, I dressed carefully in stone or khaki clothing to blend into the beach.  A stone-coloured brimmed hat finished the look, and I eschewed sunglasses.  There would be no dark areas on my body or outline.  There was also a large log washed up on the beach I could conceal myself behind by laying beside it.  I had about an hour there, able to watch and take pictures.  For the first time I ended up with a series that didn’t require cropping.  In fact, the birds seemed curious about the shutter sound and came closer than I expected.  Here’s a sample:

 

 

A rational look at rhinos, Namibia and sport-hunting Brendan Moyle Jan 17

No Comments

One of the points about conservation that seems to elude many, is that conservation isn’t about imposing your values on others.  It is about increasing the populations of endangered species.  This conflict came to head with the forthcoming auction of a hunting-permit for one black rhino in Namibia.

The idea of sport hunting is an anathema to many.  The outrage at the Dallas Safari Club auction of the permit on social media has been intense.  Nonetheless, the reality is that Africa is not a giant theme park for tourists.  It has wildlife and people coexisting.  Local communities have to bear the costs of wildlife interactions.  This includes damage to crops and property, injuries and sometimes deaths.  To maintain wildlife requires expenditures by governments to monitor and protect the wildlife.  A brutal consequence of this is lethal conflicts between poachers and rangers.

This is where sport-hunting plays a role.  It provides revenues and often local benefits that regular tourism does not.  Tourism requires a decent amount of infrastructure.  Professional hunters don’t.  They also go to places regular tourists don’t (tourists prefer animals in high densities to maximise viewing chances).  And they pay a lot of money.  Sport hunting occurs in Namibia because hunters put a lot of money conservation there, and outraged netizens don’t.  It occurs because it supports conservation.  Local communities get benefits from the wildlife.  They cooperate with enforcement agencies against poachers.

Namibia is one of the few countries in Africa to have an increasing number of rhinos.  It has a population of 1750 black rhinos.    Since 2004 Namibia has been allowed a hunting quota of 5 black rhino males per year by CITES.  This auction is just the sixth to have occurred.  It is of a post-reproductive male.  Population dynamics says that removing post-reproductive males isn’t a risk to the population.  People may not like it.  Nobody is asking that people like it.  The point is however, it is part of a successful strategy that has seen poaching curbed and rhino numbers increased.  That’s the goal of conservation.

The following text from the IUCN Sustainable use and Livelihoods Group is informative, and was submitted on this proposal.  It provides more detail on this issue.

—–

11th December 2013

 

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN

 

RE: FORTHCOMING AUCTION OF A PERMIT TO HUNT A NAMIBIAN BLACK RHINO BY DALLAS SAFARI CLUB

 

This letter provides advice and input from IUCN’s Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi, www.iucn.org/suli) on the forthcoming auction by Dallas Safari Club (DSC) of a permit to hunt one black rhino in Namibia, as granted to them by the Government of Namibia. SULi is a cross-Commissional initiative of IUCN’s Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP) and its Species Survival Commission (SSC), and includes around 300 specialists and experts from across the globe on various aspects of sustainable use of wild species and its contributions to local livelihoods.

 

From a conservation perspective, we believe there are sound and compelling reasons to support this auction, and do not see any valid basis for opposing it. We note that:

 

  1. The auction is supported by the Government of Namibia, which has approved the permit to be auctioned by DSC. Namibia has an outstanding, globally recognised conservation track record. Over recent decades, wildlife numbers (including both black and white rhino) have been progressively increasing – not only in protected areas, but also on freehold and communal lands. This is near-unique in any developing country. The black rhino population now stands at around 1750[1]. Namibia has experienced very few poaching incidents despite the alarming escalation of poaching in neighbouring countries[2], and despite its large free-ranging population.

 

  1. The purpose of the auction of this permit in the USA (which Namibia would otherwise auction in-country) is to raise a larger amount of dedicated funding from the small number of black rhino it allows to be hunted each year as part of its rhino conservation strategy.

 

  1. Sustainable use, including through trophy hunting, is a fundamental pillar of Namibia’s conservation approach, and instrumental in its success. Through farsighted legislation, Namibia has empowered rural communities and private landholders to benefit directly from wildlife, thus building up an enormous support base for conservation amongst these groups. Sustainable use of wildlife contributes directly to the livelihoods of many rural communities, dramatically reducing levels of poaching and human-wildlife conflict[3], and dramatically expanding the area of land devoted to wildlife as a primary land use. As a result of its sustainable use approach, Namibia currently has 44% of its land area under some form of conservation[4], a remarkable and unrivalled achievement.

 

  1. Carefully managed hunting has proven to be an effective means of encouraging and enabling rural communities, private land holders, and indeed governments in a number of countries to protect and invest in wildlife. Photo-tourism is often proposed as an alternative to hunting and can be very effective in some contexts. However, unlike trophy hunting, tourism is capital intensive, requires considerable infrastructure, has higher environmental impacts, and is not viable in many landscapes (such as those distant from tourist routes, with still-low wildlife populations, lacking the required scenic qualities, or where there is political unrest). In Namibia, tourism and trophy hunting are complementary, typically taking place on the same areas of land, with trophy hunting frequently more important in the early stages of development of wildlife-based land uses.

 

  1. The current, well-justified international concern over the escalating and appalling level of wildlife crime can lead to some confusion with legitimate, well-managed sustainable use, including trophy hunting. Well-managed trophy hunting has little to do with poaching, and indeed can be a key tool to help combat it[5]. In Namibia, the benefits for rural communities from wildlife use have dramatically reduced levels of poaching over recent decades, and made communities powerful partners in detecting and combating wildlife crime. Trophy hunting provides not just incentive but revenue for anti-poaching efforts: without it, communal conservancies and landholders would not be able to employ the upwards of 3000 field rangers employed to protect wildlife and enforce regulations on wildlife use[6], or establish the sophisticated surveillance and informer networks in place. There is also a positive anti-poaching deterrent from having professional hunters traversing remote areas. These impacts have been borne out for rhino poaching in Namibia: it has an excellent track record of apprehending the perpetrators of the small number of rhino poaching incidents over recent years[7], directly as a result of support for and cooperation with enforcement agencies by local communities.

 

  1. The entire income from the auction of the permit will be paid into the the Namibian Game Products Trust Fund (GPTF). Maximising revenue to this fund will directly support practical and important rhino conservation work. This hunt will be the sixth hunt of a post-reproductive male black rhino in Namiba, and the funds generated from these earlier hunts were likewise paid into the GPTF and “ring-fenced” for rhino conservation work. The GPTF has a good record in supporting rhino conservation work, including funding
  • intensive rhino monitoring programmes;
  • purchase of specialized rhino management equipment (e.g. capture equipment);
  • operational funds for rhino rescue and relocation work;
  • purchase and deployment of radio/satellite tracking devices; and
  • purchase of drones for rhino protection.

The Namibian Government is also piloting a high-tech water-point surveillance system (due to the recent elephant poisoning developments in Zimbabwe) which is likely to rely on GPTF funding for roll-out. The GPTF is the one fund that the Ministry of Environment and Tourism can rapidly access to respond to rhino threats and management needs, so it is a critically important tool in Namibia’s arsenal to protect and manage its rhino.

 

  1. The hunt is consistent with commitments under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Namibia and South Africa applied for and received the support of CITES for an annual black rhino maximum hunting quota of 5 black rhino males/year each at CoP 13 in 2004, and the permit at issue here is within this quota. The CITES’ Conference of the Parties’ decision was based on widespread recognition that, while black rhino remain a Critically Endangered species, hunting a small number of males could be fully consistent with and indeed contribute positively to population growth of rhino, that numbers were increasing due to successful management in both countries, and that trophy hunting could play an important role in conservation efforts as explained above.

 

  1. Trophy hunting in Namibia is consistent with IUCN’s own policy, which has long recognised that the sustainable use of wildlife can be contribute to biodiversity conservation, because the social and economic benefits derived from use of species can provide incentives for people to conserve them and their habitats[8]. IUCN has also further recognised the conservation and rural livelihood benefits that can flow from well-managed recreational hunting[9] and trophy hunting in particular[10], including the part these have played in stimulating population increases for rhino[11]. We view Namibia’s program as an excellent example of these principles in action.

 

For these reasons, IUCN SULi is supportive of this auction by DSC, and sees it as an effective means to raise much-needed money for rhino conservation in a manner fully consistent with Namibia’s successful rhino conservation programme.

 

We recognise that it is not immediately intuitive that trophy hunting – even for endangered species – can be a positive conservation tool that can be used to fight poaching and acquire more habitat for wildlife. We further understand that the very idea of hunting is abhorrent to many people. However, in a world that requires pragmatic conservation solutions, trophy hunting – where well-managed – is frequently one of the most effective conservation tools available. Capitalising on the humane demise of a post reproductive animal in order to produce tangible benefits for the conservation of its species is a sound strategy worthy of strong support.

 

We hope and trust that DSC’s auction is successful in its purpose of raising substantial revenue to help protect and conserve rhinos in the field.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

 

Dr Rosie Cooney


[1] IUCN (2013) CITES CoP 16 Inf. 51. Online at http://www.cites.org/eng/cop/16/inf/E-CoP16i-51.pdf

[2] Ibid.

[3] See e.g. Weaver LC, Hamunyela E, Diggle R, Matongo G and Pietersen T (2011). The catalytic role and contributions of sustainable wildlife use to the Namibia CBNRM Programme. In CITES and CBNRM: Proceedings of an international symposium on “The relevance of CBNRM to the conservation and sustainable use of CITES-listed species in exporting countries”. M. Abensperg-Traun, D. Roe and C. O’Criodain (Eds). Gland, Switzerland and London, UK, IUCN and IIED: 59-70. Online at http://pubs.iied.org/14616IIED.html

[4] NACSO. 2013. The state of community conservation in Namibia – a review of communal conservancies, community forests and other CBNRM initiatives (2012 Annual Report). NACSO, Windhoek. Online at http://www.nacso.org.na

[5] See examples in IUCN SSC (2012) Guiding Principles on Trophy Hunting as a Tool for Creating Conservation Incentives v1, Annex 1. Online at http://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/iucn_ssc_guiding_principles_on_trophy_hunting_ver1_09aug2012.pdf

[6] This figure is calculated very conservatively as follows: Namibian communal conservancies have 573 full time and 96 part time conservancy employees, plus 862 conservancy representatives who receive allowances (NACSO 2013, see n4). While all of these people contribute to promoting conservation, of the full time Conservancy employees at least 460 are community game guards. There are over 1500 registered hunting farms in Namibia (freehold land), and it can be conservatively assumed that each farm employs 2 game guards. This supports a total of at least 3460.

[7] IUCN (2013) see above, n1.

[8] IUCN (2000) Policy on Sustainable Use of Wild Living Resources, WCC Res. 2.29. Online at http://www.iucn.org/about/union/commissions/sustainable_use_and_livelihoods_specialist_group/resources/res_supolstat/

[9] IUCN (2004) Application of the IUCN Sustainable Use Policy to sustainable consumptive use of wildlife and recreational hunting in southern Africa WCC Rec 3.093. Online at https://portals.iucn.org/library/efiles/edocs/WCC-3rd-005.pdf

[10] IUCN SSC (2000) supra n5.

[11] IUCN (2012) Conservation of rhinoceros species in Africa and Asia. WCC Rec. 138. Online at http://www.rhinos.org/Assets/wcc-2012-rec-138-en-conservation-of-rhinoceros-sp.pdf

 

The 25,000 elephant question Brendan Moyle Dec 08

No Comments

Poaching levels for African elephants have now accelerated to a point where about 25,000 are being killed a year.  The population in Africa is projected to decline by 20% in the next decade.  This is starting to get people very worried.

The illegal trade in elephants has several important features.  The first is that there is a separation between final consumers of carvings and poachers who procure the tusks.  There is a long supply chain with many parties along the route.  And importantly, many of these act strategically.  They’re thinking about the future, where demand is going and what effect enforcement is going to have.

The second feature is that ivory isn’t consumed in its raw form. It has to be transformed into something of value by carvings.  This process isn’t instant.  For an elaborate and large carving like a Guangzhou dragon-ball this can take months.  The number of skilled carvers is limited and the tools used to carve ivory aren’t sophisticated. There’s a limit to how much can be transformed into carvings.

ivory-carving-1

The third feature is that ivory is durable.  It can be stored for long periods without deteriorating. This may require some environmental safeguards.  In the dry air of Beijing for instance, humidity levels have to be increased.  But other than that, tusks can potentially last for years.  This is why many governments have stockpiles.  Another point is the bad guys have stockpiles too.

One way to look at the illegal trade is to break the seizures down into different categories.  Seizure data has been accumulated globally as part of the ETIS since 1996.  While the weight of seizures is often aggregated, this masks some important differences.  Some guy smuggling a small piece of raw ivory in his suitcase, isn’t the same as the criminal conspiracy shipping four tons of tusks in a container.

What I’ve done here is taken the ETIS seizure data for raw ivory (by weight) and divided it into four categories.  These are the seizures up to less than 10kg (Raw1), the seizures from 10kg but less than 100 (Raw2), the seizures from 100kg but less than 1000, and the seizures that are more than 1000kg.  This isn’t the total amount of ivory being illegal trafficked.  It is a sample based on seizures. I’ve also expressed the data as a two-year moving average to iron out a little volatility.

Raw Ivory Seizures

 

The data graphed above is also stacked so that the top line will measure the total ivory seized while the other lines break it down into proportions.  There were no big seizures in 2007-2008.

What can we see?

Well, the small seizures (less than 10kg) have been pretty stable. They haven’t moved.  The problem facing elephants isn’t the small stuff coming in as suitcases.  These make up the majority of the actual seizures by a negligible amount of the illegal ivory.  This also serves as a useful control. If the increase in recorded seizures was simply down to better reporting and better enforcement, this ought to have increased in line with the other categories.

The second point is really that the big seizures drive the trend. The increase in illegal ivory being trafficked is down to one category getting bigger.  This is the stuff that’s more than 1000kg. It’s the stuff that’s several tons in a shipping container from East or West Africa. We can see that’s taken off from around 2008.

This actually generates an important question. Why is it 25,000 elephants and not 10,000 elephants? The legal demand in China for ivory is about 4 tons per year.  The illegal demand is (we think) much higher. But 10,000 elephants gives (back of the envelope calculation) about 100 tons of raw ivory a year.  25,000 elephants gives 250 tons. It doesn’t seem plausible that this could be absorbed by the markets in China- nor that the legal and illegal factories could transform it into carvings fast enough.

This is a strong indicator that ivory is being hoarded at the moment.  This tells us the bad guys are banking on the US government and many other conservation organisations being wrong. They’re betting on ivory still being in demand in the future and at higher prices. This is kind of scary. I tend to the view that the guys involved in the illegal market have pretty good knowledge of the market. I don’t have the same confidence in the conservation organisations claiming demand is going to decline with stockpile destruction.  If the bad guys are right, destroying legal stockpiles just makes their hoards more valuable. It affirms the poaching spree was the right strategy for them.

 

 

 

Small hitchhikers Brendan Moyle Dec 03

No Comments

This time of year you might notice some flies repeatedly shaking their legs. A closer look will show a tiny, pale brown thing attached to the leg.  This is actually one of our native pseudoscorpion Thalassochernes tairiensis. What is is doing is hitching a ride on the fly.  This is a habit known as phoresy.  It’s a way for the animal to get a ride somewhere else.  For minute animals unable to cover a lot of ground, phoresy is quite handy.

Pseudoscorpions are an order of arachnids that are widely distributed.  As an order, they are on par with spiders or scorpions or harvestmen.  Despite being even more widely distributed than scorpions, most people are not aware of them.  The reason is simple.  These arachnids are tiny and cryptic.  They dislike the light and move away from it.  They’re usually very small.  Most are much less than 2mm long.

They have a number of appealing traits however.  The female feeds nymphs a nourishing liquid.  They also have small silk glands, which in some families are used to make little domes to protect the female and her nymphs.  Despite their pincers and segmented body, they’re not a descendant of scorpions.  Their poison apparatus is on a tiny tooth, on one of the fingers of their claw.  It’s pretty lethal if you’re a mm long and have 6 legs. 

To get these pics I waited for the pseudoscorpion to detach herself.  To boost the magnification (the arachnid here is about 2mm long) I attached a 24x Raynox microscope adapter. Then my macro flash (the two small heads of this are much easier to work up close than a ringflash) was attached to boost the shutter speed. I had hoped I could get some shots hand-holding the camera but this was impossible. The depth-of-field was critically narrow and for a moving subject, impossible.  So it was then on to the tripod (and thankfully, the geared head).  

Even with the 24x magnifier I still couldn’t see the edge of the carapace so a bit of guesswork was involved. At least with the arachnid being blind, I didn’t have to worry about getting the eyes in focus.  They have a number of long, sensitive seta (trichobothria) on their claws that are used to locate prey.

Bear in mind with these pics, almost all the detail shown here is invisible to the naked eye.

 

In the ruins Brendan Moyle Nov 25

No Comments

It’s sometimes easy to imagine NZ only offers opportunities to take stunning pictures of nature.  We don’t have the history of many other countries with ancient monuments, medieval Cathedrals or the like.  That doesn’t mean opportunities don’t exist. You just have to be a bit more alert to them.

The following photos are the relics of New Zealand’s past.  I’ve tended to use a black-and-white approach.

The first two pics are of the Copper-mine chimney on Kawau Island.

 

“The Ruin”

“To the Ruin”

The next pic is from the Denniston Mine on the West Coast of NZ.

 

“Abandoned”

I really liked this one. You’re looking out towards the Tasman sea, which gives a sense of the dramatic incline of the cable system. The harshness of the environment is also apparent.

All shots were taken with a Sony a700.

Original photos are in the “Natural Goodness” and “Colour-free” albums

 

Network-wide options by YD - Freelance Wordpress Developer