Posts Tagged conservation

The struggles of a garden-conservationist Brendan Moyle Apr 29

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We are fortunate to be in a place that, for an urban garden, has a lot of indigenous diversity.  There are geckos in the trees, there are skinks on the ground. Keruru (wood-pigeons) and tuis visit regularly for food and rest. Moreporks (ruru) are also vocal in the night, having divided the area into what it seems to be, home ranges for each.

There was at least, when we first arrived, a lot of native spiders.  It’s getting harder though to spot those.  We also have the wetas. No NZ garden is complete without them.

Keruru feeding on Cordyline berries

I’ve been trying to keep the local invasives under control. I think I’m losing.  The rats are at least, being kept in low numbers because I bait and trap them. The local cats are delighted however at the place. We don’t own a cat. So the local cats have decided this is a good place to include in their range.  Little bunches of feathers are a regular sight on the lawn. Fortunately this isn’t taking a great toll on the native birds. But the local lizards are not so blessed. Skinks- and even the occasional gecko- are falling to these feline intruders.  Finding a dried-up and mangled lizard corpse, is not the highlight of my day.

But I think, my real nemesis has become the wasps.

Paper Wasp

Another paper wasp

These are constantly cruising the garden area, devouring the native insects and spiders that they find. I’ve wiped out a few nests, but the native trees and foraging range of these invasives, mean I’m not doing enough.

So the native insect and spider numbers decline. The wasps take out the small arthropods. The rats take out the bigger ones. And the cats take out any that survive to a larger size.

So the current problem is controlling the wasps. Are there any kind of bait stations or traps suitable for the urban garden?  Are they good enough to target these wasps?  I’d be keen to find out if anyone else has run into a similar challenge.


Rhinos – a horny problem Brendan Moyle Mar 18

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The poaching crisis in rhinos in fact, dwarfs that of elephants at the moment.  The rapid increase in poaching of rhinos since 2008 has mirrored other species.  Unlike elephants however, there is no ‘one-off’ sale to blame.  In fact, the restrictions on the export of horns in the form of hunting trophies seems coincident with the increase.

Figure linked to TRAFFIC

Which leads into a pet-peeve of mine. This is the myth that will not die.  This is the myth that rhino horn is used as an aphrodisiac in Traditional Asian Medicines.  It is  not. Rhino horn has had two main uses. One is as dagger handles (jambaliya) in the Arabian peninsular.  The other is as a treatment of ‘hot’-diseases in Asian medicine.  These include fevers (rhino-horn is believed to be an anti-pyretic) and now, possibly cancer.  Not that it really does either.  Anyway, this information has been known for years.

White Rhinos- Kenya. From 2014.

Middle-aged impotent Chinese men are not the drivers of rhino-poaching. Promulgating this myth, is not helpful. It plays on a racist stereotype. This is not helpful. It does not go down well in China.

It also wastes resources. For example, part of my work on the tiger black-market in 2008, was diverted to ‘investigate’ the aphrodisiac market. Because it was believed that tigers were being poached for their penises. Because everybody “knew” that middle-aged, impotent Chinese men were the reason tigers were being poached. So time and money was spent investigating err, “sex shops” in China for tiger penises (oh my eyes, my poor poor eyes). Simply to prove what we already knew. That tigers were being poached for the skins and their bones instead. The little blue-pill is much more popular for impotent men.



Wildlife Trade Symposium- Call for papers Brendan Moyle Mar 10

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The School of Anthropology and Conservation a the University of Kent has put out a call for abstracts.  I’m intending to go :).

It is for a 2-day symposium entitled “Towards a sustainable and legal wildlife trade” on Thursday, 18th June and Friday, 19th June, 2015 at the Durrell Institute for Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK.

The outline is as follows.

The conservation of flora and fauna is in crisis. Poaching and the illegal trade in wildlife are pushing a number of iconic species towards extinction. In the legal trade there is a mixed picture of successful trade models combined with unsustainable harvesting levels of animals, plants and timber, and poor animal welfare and governance.

Conservation and development goals from the wildlife trade will only be achieved through effective collaboration and dialogue among governments, practitioners and the private sector, supported by state-of-the-art research.  Despite the global importance of the wildlife trade in political, economic and cultural terms, policy development and implementation remains poorly supported by research.

In this 2 day symposium we aim to enhance understanding on how to support a trade in wildlife that is sustainable, legal and consistent with the principles of sustainable development. Key objectives are to:

  • foster dialogue between researchers, economists, policy makers, the private sector and other conservation-related disciplines.
  • provide evidence-based options for improved conservation trade policy.
  • establish a research agenda for wildlife trade in the global economy.

The event will be of interest to conservation experts, researchers, managers and officials from government, private sector, NGOs, international organizations and universities.


Royal Malaysian Police capture Nepalese wildlife criminal Brendan Moyle Feb 17

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INTERPOL in 2014 launched a coordinated campaign to arrest a number of criminals involved in wildlife crimes.  One of these criminals, a Rajkumar Praja,  involved in rhino poaching, has been apprehended in Malaysia.

Rajkumar Praja, the ringleader of a rhino poaching network in Nepal, is wanted to serve a 15-year sentence for rhino poaching and trading internationally in rhino horns. Nepali authorities requested a Red Notice, or international wanted persons alert, for the 31-year-old after he fled the country – INTERPOL 

One of the reasons wildlife crime networks have shown a lot of longevity, is the typically lower apprehension risks, and lower sentences handed out,  for wildlife crimes.  This is in contrast to the treatment of criminals engaged in say, drug-trafficking.  In economic parlance, it is unlikely that we have been operating at ‘optimal deterrence’.

Moves like this to increases apprehension risks will hopefully yield positive outcomes.  Nonetheless, there are still two issues that make law enforcement a challenge.  The first is that wildlife crime does not have a lot of barriers to enter.  The Chen case in Xiamen, in 2011, showed this for ivory.  Chen went from having absolutely no contacts in Africa, to a conspiracy that shipped 7 tons of ivory back to China.  These shipments occurred over a mere 6 months.  This was on the back of a single visit to Africa as a tourist.  Wildlife crime does not seem to need to large, organised criminal organisations we see with drug cartels.  In effect, wildlife criminals are easily replaced in the industry.

The second is that poachers may not react to increase enforcement by reducing crime. They can respond by coming back with bigger guns and more lethal force.  There’s a good reason why rangers are getting killed trying to protect African wildlife.  The criminals have armed themselves with more weapons and have little reluctance to use them.




On the Savannah Brendan Moyle Dec 29

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**This post first appeared as a blog-post on my zenfolio site.  The zenfolio website is optimised for photo viewing.

All photos below can be viewed at a larger-size with a mouse-click**

The workshop on ivory economics at Ol Pejeta lasted for two days.  While I plan to discuss it in more detail later, it was fairly intense.  Fortunately an early evening safari was planned on the first night to give us all a break.  This is what I’d dragged my “light safari” kit along for.  One of the challenges with this trip was that on the last leg (the flight from Nairobi to Nanyuki) the total luggage limit was 15kg.  I stuck to one camera (the a900), one long prime (300/4 G lens with 1.4x TC), one macro (100/2.8) and one wide angle (28/2.0).  Even so, the camera, lens and teleconverter was close to 2.5kg.

Anyway, some time among the wildlife was what I hoped to get.  It would have been a painful experience to fly all the way to Kenya with what was still a substantial camera and not get anything.  It’s happened before on trips to other places.  On the other hand the regret I’d have felt if I had gone all the way to Kenya and not been able to get some nice photos because I left the camera behind also tugged at me.  So, the safari experience, as short as it was, was most welcome.

I’ve selected some of the shots to show here. The pictures have been taken at the end of the raining season.  This is why the grass is still green.

First, perhaps the most photogenic hoofed animal in the area- the zebras

click for larger image

Another unusual sight were the rhinos.  The conservancy has a small population of both the northern and southern white rhino.  These are rare in East Africa after decades of poaching.  The larger of the two had been dehorned in the past, but the horn had been growing back since.  The bigger problem photography-wise, was we were parked close to these animals.  It was not always easy getting the animals in the frame with a fixed focal-length lens.


On the other hand, we stayed at a distance from the buffalo

Sadly neither the Oryx or antelope were very cooperative, so I only managed a couple of snapshots of them.

On the other hand the water bucks were more into posing

The lions were also determined to ignore us

The local birdlife was also impressive.  We spotted many plovers, bustards and vultures.  Photographing them was less straightforward.

I got a reasonably nice, if cropped, picture of a secretary bird atop a tree.  I was concerned it would be so highlighted against the bright sky behind it I would get nothing.

The white-bellied bustards however, were more cooperative.



I think the range of shots captured here are a good sign of how well maintained the conservancy is.  Overall I was pleased I gambled that the camera gear would be worth bringing.

To Dunedin! On an ivory quest! Brendan Moyle Oct 22

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Well, not exactly.


But on Friday, I will be at Otago University and giving a seminar on ivory black markets.  One topic I’m going to highlight is whether the legal factories in China (all 37 of them) are a significant source of illegal carvings.

The production problem is usually glibly ignored or assumed away.  But essentially, if you do think that it is the demand for carvings in East Asia (and mostly China) that drives the poaching, there is a production challenge.  The 37 legal factories in China go through around 23-23 tusks per month (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Monthly Tusk Throughput in China

tusk throughput

If we accept that 25,000 elephants a year are being poached for ivory, and this is fed rapidly into the market for carvings, then that’s over 4000 tusks a month that has to be carved into carvings.  If we go for some of the bigger estimates- 35,000 elephants a year- that means over 5800 tusks a month.  A comparison with what the entire legal system in China is managing is sobering.   That’s an enormous gap that has not yet been accounted for.

I think once again, we have to take on board the hypothesis that most of the illegal ivory isn’t being exported to be churned out as carvings. It’s feeding a speculative market that is stockpiling raw ivory.  And the drivers of that are not Chinese affluence.  The drivers are the perceived scarcity of ivory combined with the uncertainty in its supply.



Lost at sea: Impressions of Leonardo’s Sailors Brendan Moyle Oct 13

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One day someone might write a useful review of the economics of wildlife trade.  Nadal and Aguayo’s “Leonardo’s Sailors” is simply not it.  The tragedy is that an opportunity has been squandered.  Economic models of wildlife trade and poaching have lagged behind policy issues.  They are simplistic. As yet they offer only limited guidance on the policy issues we grapple with. A good, critical review could have moved things forward.

Neither authors has any prior publications in this field.  Their methods are suspect.  They take a fraction of the literature on this issue.  The sample is from a subset of economists, many labelled as ‘pro-trade’ sic.  They select a narrow set of this research to critique.   You will not find my publications on butterflies, parrots, cockatoos [1], tigers, elephants or wildlife trade[2] in general in their list; just one paper on alligator farming.

Similarly you will not find any references to the work of Swanson, to Missios, to Ferrier, to Moran and many others.  You will not find case studies on the markhor, the vicuna, the caiman and other crocodilians or butterflies.

What you will find, is the same tactic creationists use to discredit evolutionary biologists.  This is the quote-mine.

Quote mining is the deceitful tactic of taking quotes out of context in order to make them seemingly agree with the quote miner’s viewpoint or to make the comments of an opponent seem more extreme or hold positions they don’t in order to make their positions easier to refute or demonize.[1] It’s a way of lying. This tactic is widely used among Young Earth Creationists in an attempt to discredit evolution.

(from Rational Wiki)

Blogs and the like are ‘mined’ to find quotes that can be used out of context, to discredit your opponent.  This has no place in science.

This is shameful. It is dishonest. It is contemptible.

Normally I would ignore this type of report.  It is not a peer-reviewed journal publication.  Nonetheless, there are three reasons I’m responding:

  1. It has had a negative impact on important debates around elephants and rhinos
  2. It misrepresents my research and position
  3. It makes false claims about my research

Because this is my blog I am going to indulge in a sampling of the points relevant to my work.  I don’t believe I am a unique target, but I am not interested in wasting my time on a full review of this report.

Let me illustrate with the report itself:

Moreover, legalising wildlife trade is being increasingly proposed as a general solution, applicable to many species (even to wildlife in general) with disregard to reproduction rates or ecological traits, or the specifics of different economic contexts.

No. Just no.

A regulated trade in wildlife is mooted as a potential solution to a narrow band of species threatened by poaching or by human-animal conflicts.  Rather than being a general solution, it seen as an option that could work in some cases.  For that reason it should be evaluated objectively.  See Moyle (2013).  I do not believe that any of the researchers targeted in this report have ever advocated trade as a general conservation solution.

This claim in Leonardo’s Sailors is a misrepresentation to set up a strawman opponent that is just easier to knock down.

On property rights:

This view of privatisation is shared by Moyle (2007) who affirms that “tigers need privatization too” as if this could guarantee their conservation.

This is a very good example of a quote-mine, and why you should not use them.  First, this is an outlier ‘solution’ sic and is not presented as a solution in my paper on the black-market in tiger parts in China, not presented as a solution in my paper on the black-market given at the SCB conference in 2011 [3] and not at the 2013 Kunming meeting on combating the illegal trade in tigers [4].

What makes it an outlier is that this is just the title of an IPA article- an Australian Free Market Institute. The IPA asked permission to use an article that Massey University had published on my research.   I didn’t pick the title.  Given the IPA’s stance the choice of title isn’t really surprising.  (The IPA also embellished the article with material I didn’t write.  There is a good reason why this article is an ‘outlier’).  And given the only farms discussed were Chinese tiger farms, ironically, this was not a case of privatisation.  I doubt the report’s authors read the article itself.  Especially as the article doesn’t say it would guarantee their survival.

You will not find any research of mine on the wildlife trade that advocates privatisation as the best conservation option.

Quote-mining is dishonest.

Products are treated as being homogeneous and this is why it is assumed that legal trade flows are able to fully substitute illegal ones.

Except Moyle (2013) points out that wildlife products are heterogeneous and that black markets may persist under these conditions-  cf “It cannot be assumed that these are products that are close substitutes“.  Also my paper on the tiger black market points out that not only is wildlife heterogeneous, in the case of tigers they are multi-product.

…The author concludes that the hypothesis that a legal supply can expand the market for illegal products cannot be sustained. But this study does not examine the illegal market at all. It is based on the implausible assumption that poachers behave like legal hunters (Moyle 2013:1664).

From my paper itself:

Assuming legal hunters and poachers are employing the same technology, then behaviour of poachers should mimic the actions of legal hunters. The response of legal hunters will thus resemble the responses of poachers. Deliberate mimicking occurred with alligators in the 1960s in the US (Thorbjarnarson and Wang 2010).

(My emphasis added)

It is an historic occurrence and if the report authors had familiarised themselves with the papers in my references, not unique to alligators. I do not think this assertion it is implausible holds.  Clearly the referees of my paper did not either.

Moreover, the author’s conclusions completely ignore the fact that neither hunters nor farmers actually make autonomous decisions on quantities, since “the number of alligators that can be taken is controlled by hunting tags issued by the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries” and farmed output comes “from eggs that are collected under quantity permits” (Ibidem: 1665 and 1666).

Only if you’re determined to ignore two key points in the paper.

First, these quantity restrictions are ‘slack conditions’ and not binding because both sectors operate below this ‘safety ceiling’. And of course, the LWF tag-numbers can be manipulated upwards by investments in the habitat and nesting sites of alligators.

Second, the farms that have their own breeding stock are not bound by the LWF restrictions.  These are mentioned in the paper.  How odd the authors of Leonardo’s Sailors decided to omit this point.

The supply-side argument for trade in wildlife is based on the idea that legal supplies can, and necessarily will, out-compete illegal sources. In pro-trade models this goal is achieved through price reduction.

No. Moyle 2013 points out and cites earlier research on this exact same point- that non-price factors crowd out illegal trade.  This includes the security of supply, volume of product and quality of the product.

If, as evidence suggests, crime syndicates have access to scale and scope economies, they will actively resort to a strategy of expanding their markets.

Not something we are unaware of.

“(ivory) smugglers patiently developed alternative routes that were independent of the legal traffic. Instead of simply waiting and hoping for the ban in ivory to be lifted, new routes and new markets were developed” Moyle, 2003, p49-50.[2]

“However, as the black market becomes more established, organized and concentrated, the cost of supply drops.  At this stage, organized crime syndicates are more likely to initiate organized poaching” ‘t Sas-Rolfes, 2010, p485 [5]

Economies of scale are also identified in my latest paper on ivory smuggling.  These are issues that are being thought about. There is a fundamental problem evaluating other’s research when you restrict yourself to sampling from such a narrow range of papers.

A good example is Moyle (2011), who believes we should “ban the phrase trade fuels demand”

And the quote-mine makes another appearance. No, I don’t believe that. This is absurd.  I wrote it as a rhetorical device to provoke discussion in a blog- one of many I’ve written on the wildlife trade- to motivate discussion on what drives increases in poaching.  The context should have made it clear I was not literally advocating this.

An objective reading of Moyle (2013) and other papers shows I acknowledge that trade does have the potential to increase poaching (e.g. laundering effects, stigma effects).

The authors are competent and respected economists.  They should not be employing quote-mining to misrepresent people they disagree with.  This is not behaviour consistent with an objective economist.

The assumption that market demand functions are downward sloping is used in all of the studies on wildlife trade and trafficking (Damania and Bulte, 2007;Challender and MacMillan, 2013;Lockwood, 2011;Moyle,2013, ‘t Sas-Rolfes,2007).

And another false statement appears. Whilst it is true that papers that use Cournot or Bertrand assumptions assume a downward demand sloping function, I make no assumptions about the functional form in alligator farming.

I let the data do the talking. I don’t make any prior assumptions. Once prices were shown to be exogenous, ironically, I showed that the Cournot assumption did not hold.  Given the prices are exogenous, they could be determined randomly (say by sunspot activity) or have any feasible functional form.  It does not matter for my model- which was supply responses to these exogenous prices.  Remember- I was not modelling the demand for alligator skins but the supply from wild and farmed sources.

My results actually supported the argument in Leonardo’s Sailors!  Either my paper had not been properly read or their antipathy towards my imagined position prevents them from using my evidence.

This report appears to be a hasty, under-researched project with far too much effort devoted to discrediting ‘strawman’ opponents.  I’m not going to pretend it is of academic merit.

I should not have to be responding to claims I’m a free-market, privatising zealot.  My research on wildlife trade and black markets alone disproves that.


[1] Noske, Richard A.; Moyle, Brendan J. and Vardon, Michael J. Harvesting black cockatoos in the Northern Territory: catastrophe or conservation? [online]. Australian Biologist, Vol. 10, No. 1, Mar 1997: 84-93.

[2] Moyle, B. J. (2003). Regulation, conservation and incentives. In S. O. Ed (Ed.), The trade in wildlife: Regulation for conservation (pp. 41-51). London, UK: Earthscan Publications Ltd.

[3] Moyle, B. J. (2011, December 5). Analysing the Chinese black market in Tiger parts: A transaction cost economics approach. In 25th International Congress for Conservation Biology. Auckland, New Zealand.

[4] Moyle, B. J. (2013, July 29). Understanding and Combating Traffic in Big-Cat Parts: The Transaction Cost Economics Approach. In “International Workshop on Transboundary Conservation of Tigers and Other Endangered Species, and Strategy for Combating Illegal Wildlife Trade. Kunming, Yunnan.

[5] ‘t Sas-Rolfes, Michael (2010).  Tigers, Economics, and the Regulation of Trade. In Tilson, R. and Nyhus, P.J. Tigers of the World: The Science, Politics, and Conservation of Panthera tigris. (pp.477-490). Academic Press. London.

Excellent elephant conservation blog by Daniel Stiles Brendan Moyle Sep 16

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Long-time elephant conservationist Daniel Stiles has an excellent blog at National Geographic on elephant conservation and the ivory trade.  I think everybody who is concerned with conservation policy and elephants should read it.

On the 80′s poaching crisis-

Tragically, the rising calls for an ivory trade ban increased poaching because East Asian dealers and factories decided to stockpile for future use. The two fed each other in a positive feedback loop—increased poaching, increased calls for control, leading to more poaching to stockpile, ad infinitum until the ban

On the current situation

It was not only Chinese consumer interest in carved ivory that sparked the poaching crisis beginning in 2008-09. Investors, a.k.a. speculators, also became interested in raw ivory—tusks. After anti-trade NGOs succeeded in forcing a nine-year moratorium on proposals for future legal ivory sales from southern Africa at the CITES Conference of the Parties in 2007, unscrupulous ivory dealers saw that there was even more money to be made from poached tusks, because uncertainty of supply fuels speculation.

I’ve added my emphasis to the last statement.  When we create uncertainty about future supply, the bad guys respond by ramping up poaching to stockpile ivory.

On the solution- a regular, secure ivory supply from natural mortality etc

While no exact figure can be put at present on how much ivory would be available from stockpiles, natural mortality and PAC combined, I am confident that a minimum of 60 tons of legal ivory could be exported from Africa annually for at least ten years, without a single poached tusk needed. During this ten-year period, intense demand-reduction campaigns can be mounted so that renewable resource ivory from natural deaths and PAC can supply demand sustainably.

I recommend everyone read this piece.

Ivory Connections: Poaching and civil wars Brendan Moyle Aug 08

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As has been widely noted, elephant poaching in Africa has risen to very high levels- and once again is, threatening many populations of elephants.  The debate over the causes has not been entirely settled.  Some have advocated that this increase is a result of surging demand in East Asia (chiefly China).  As an explanation it doesn’t match a lot of what we have learned about this latest upsurge.

One credible cause of poaching is civil wars (and other collapses of civil order). Expenditures on parks and reserves takes a major hit, whilst desperate people seek food and livelihoods from these reserves.  And armed gangs try to cash in on what is there to fund more bullets and bombs to fuel the conflict.

The striking thing about the poaching upsurge is it is not uniform.  It is in fact, heavily concentrated in the Central African range states.  According to the IUCN elephant summit held in Botswana in December last year, it is running at around twice as high in the central African range states as the rest of Africa [1].  This is one of the clues we have, that the upsurge in poaching is a supply-driven event.

This can be shown a little more graphically.  How can we measure the ‘level’ of conflict in each of the range states?  Well, one way to do it is with refugees.  These are genuine refugees, rather than ‘economic’, and for humanitarian reasons, numbers are collected by the UN. If conflicts increase, then people tend to try to escape.  They become refugees.  And they do so with some alacrity.  It’s a pretty sensitive indicator.

So let’s look at the refugee numbers and the raw ivory intercepts.  Raw ivory becomes the indicator for poaching.  I’ve dropped the worked ivory out, because it is smuggled, raw ivory that is the chief export from range states.


The first thing that is really obvious is that refugee numbers in Central African range states completely dominate the rest of Africa. What can also bee seen, is that from the late 1990s to early 2000s, refugee numbers and poaching levels rose- then they seem stable up to around the 2008-09 period, and then they both take off again.

This tragically, describes a case of almost heavy cropping of elephants in this Central African region.  Which raises the next big question. What happens when these armed groups killing elephants run out in that region?  Will the poaching crisis burn out with the decimation of these elephants?  Or will they move to other regions of Africa.  We saw something very similar with Kenya.  It seems that if you want to limit losses to poachers, the first thing to do is ensure you do not have a common border with Somalia…cross-border poaching expeditions became common.

[1] UNEP, CITES, IUCN, TRAFFIC, 2013. Elephants in the Dust – The African Elephant Crisis. A Rapid Response Assessment. United Nations Environment Programme, GRID-Arendal.


The Raw and the Carved: Tusk throughput in an Ivory Industry Brendan Moyle May 02

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One of the important areas to understand in the illegal ivory business, is just how long it takes to turn raw-ivory into carvings.  The crucial point alluded to before is that the rise in smuggling is generated by raw-ivory seizures.  Critics of the 2008 CITES decision to allow China and Japan to import raw-ivory argue this is being manifested in demand for carvings.  The rhetoric sometimes gets quite dense. Demand for ivory carvings is alleged to be insatiable etc.

To clarify a little, I don’t think anyone is arguing that over the long term, demand for ivory in China has not grown  This is linked to the growing affluence in the region.  The point of difference is whether demand exploded after the 2008 CITES decision.  I’m not seeing much evidence it has.

And again, we come back to the problem that while we see a lot of raw-ivory being poached and smuggled, we don’t see it appearing as carvings in domestic markets. The US plan to ban much of the domestic trade in ivory carvings is one of these odd responses to a problem nobody has actually seen.

So, not only have we been going around ivory carving factories and interviewing every carver they have on their output and the time it takes, we’ve been looking for other evidence as well.  One such line is the ivory-database the Chinese maintain for their legal ivory. The Chinese actually have a lot of data on this industry.  It is though, a challenge get access to this.  In this case, we have succeeded.

So what I have, is a list of every tusk that has been completely consumed in production in the Chinese ivory-carving industry.  I know where the tusk came from, its weight, its length, and when the factory recorded that the tusk was no more.  So it provides an estimate of the throughput of ivory.  It is restricted to the 2008 shipment, so all the tusks have the same starting point.  China also had a smaller reserve of ivory at the time of this shipment.

The numbers should still track the basic production throughput however.  They will just be lower than the actual quantity of carvings as some of these will come from tusks that are still being used up, and some from older reserves.

The first allocation of ivory to the 36-37 registered factories was in July 2009.  So as an introduction to the data, I’m just going to present the annual (aggregated) data.  (The pattern is a lot more interesting over the 1300 tusks)


This tells us a few interesting things.  First, there’s significant lags being shown.  While the first of this ivory was being allocated in 2009, none of the tusks are reported as being all used up as carvings until May 2010. In the short run, demand and supply in this market can be out of synch.  Supply is always going to be playing catchup.

The first year, 2009, was also when many factories were hiring and training new staff.  The 2010 data is actually only 7 months long.  This is an indicator of the time its taken to get up to speed.

The third point is that we’re not seeing a rapid or insatiable growth in demand.  The factories are actually using up tusks slower than the total allocations (13.78 tons out of 18).  If demand had taken off in the way many are claiming, then we’d expect to see these numbers trending up to match.

Taking into account that the 2010 is only 7 months long, then the totals we see are actually pretty stable.  At the peak, the Chinese factories are going through about 400 tusks averaging a bit over 6kg each.  This is far less than some containers that have been intercepted with 4 tons or more of raw ivory.

This also gives some information on just how big the illegal carving industry has to be.  There’s a lot of raw-ivory to carve and then get this into the market for sale.  The illegal industry would have to be an order of magnitude greater than the legal.  There would have to be a lot of illegal factories.  And nobody has found those.

There are outlets selling illegal ivory.  But this is a bit deceptive.  Most of what is available for sale are small stocks of small carvings.  These are relatively common.  Researchers can find them.  Chinese enforcement agencies can find them.  The problem is that lots of small carvings of ivory still don’t add up to a lot.  We see this already with the global seizure data.  Most seizures are of small carvings smuggled in say, suitcases.  By weight, these add up to very small quantities- they are dwarfed by the volume of illegal ivory.  A similar situation occurs in China.  About 80% of the carvings made by the legal industry are generic pieces less than 50g in size.  This adds up to about 5% of the total weight of ivory used.  15,000 carvings of 50g or less, may sound like a lot of ivory.  But in overall terms, it isn’t.

It seems less credible the raw-ivory is being turned over into carvings than it is being stockpiled for later use.




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