Ivory jewelry and carvings are prized by some in Asia, but people should know they come from the massacre of elephants whose survival is threatened by rampant poaching, popular Chinese film star Li Bingbing has warned.
“I want to spread the message… that we should stop the killing because there’s blood slaughter and a poaching crisis happening behind the beautiful carvings and jewelry,” Li said, visiting elephants in the wild in Kenya.
“Many consumers in Asia do not realise that by buying ivory, they are playing a role in the illegal wildlife trade and its serious consequences,” added Li, a “goodwill ambassador” for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
“The current poaching crisis raises major concerns about the survival of elephants and rhinos here in Kenya,” she added, speaking on Wednesday in the Samburu national reserve, some 300 kilometres (200 miles) north of Nairobi.
Li, a major star in China, said citizens and the business community in Asia can “play a crucial role in preventing the illegal killing of elephants in Africa by saying no to ivory products”.
She has been visiting the east African nation as part of an awareness campaign aimed to help stamp out a rise in elephant killings, and reduce the demand for ivory.
Demand for ivory is highest in the rapidly growing economies of Asia, particularly China, UNEP warns, saying that seizures of ivory heading to Asia have doubled since 2009.
In Samburu, she saw efforts of the Save the Elephants, a group working to protect wildlife including by collaring animals and tracking using satellites.
Ivory trade is often linked to organised crime and the financing of armed groups in Africa, she added.
“An excessive demand for ivory is at the root of the rise in the illegal killing of elephants, and attempts to save them will fail unless this is tackled,” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, from Save the Elephants.
“Appetite for ivory can be changed, as it was in the US, Europe and Japan. The reality of what is happening to elephants in Africa must be communicated — such as through the work of Li Bingbing and other celebrities — in ivory consumer countries. If it is not, the outlook for elephants looks very bleak,” he added.
Last year poachers slaughtered 384 elephants in Kenya, up from 289 in 2011,according to official figures, from a total population of around 35,000. This year, poachers have already shot dead more than 75.
Li, followed by over 20 million people on Chinese social media networks, recently starred in the Hollywood film Resident Evil.
China’s leading actress Li Bingbing is visiting Kenya to highlight the illegal ivory trade that is fueling a rise in the killing of elephants in East Africa and across the continent.
A Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in China, Li Bingbing is among the most recognized faces. In November 2009, Li won the Best Leading Actress Award at the Chinese equivalent to Oscar Academy Awards, 46th Golden Horse Film Awards, for her role in the espionage spy thriller “The Message.”
Li’s rise in popularity in Hollywood productions, including her role as Ada Wong in 2012′s “Resident Evil: Retribution,” shows her star power goes beyond her Chinese fans. With more than 20 million followers on the Chinese social media network Sina Weibo and 18,000 Facebook followers, Kenya-based NGO Save the Elephants and UNEP hope that Li’s official visit will highlight the cost and impact of the demand for ivory on elephants in Africa, and resonate with those in China and beyond.
Demand for illegal ivory remains highest in the rapidly growing economies of Asia, particularly China. Large-scale seizures of ivory destined for Asia have more than doubled since 2009. In January 2013 Hong Kong authorities made their third big seizure of illegal ivory in three months, confiscating more than a tonne of elephant tusks worth $1.4 million.
The number of elephants illegally killed in Africa has doubled over the last decade, according to a recent UNEP study.
Kenya plans to bolster current lenient sentences for convicted wildlife poachers or ivory smugglers in a bid to stamp out a spike in elephant killings, the government said on Saturday.
“We intend to fight poachers at all levels to save our elephants,” government spokesman Muthui Kariuki said in a statement.
A major obstacle to this is that Kenyan courts are currently limited in their powers to jail or fine those convicted of wildlife crimes, he said.
“One of the major setbacks are lenient penalties and sentencing for wildlife crime by the courts,” he said.
“The government is concerned about this and has facilitated the process of reviewing the wildlife law and policy with a view to having more deterrent penalties and jail terms.”
Poaching has recently risen sharply in east Africa, with whole herds of elephants massacred for their ivory. Rhinos have also been targeted.
Passing tougher wildlife laws will be made a priority for Kenya’s parliament, elected last month but which has yet to begin business.
“We look forward to… parliament giving priority to passing of a new wildlife law and policy,” Kariuki added.
Kenya’s current wildlife act caps punishment for the most serious wildlife crimes at a maximum fine of 40,000 Kenyan shillings (470 dollars, 365 euros), and a possible jail term of up to 10 years.
Last month, a Chinese smuggler caught in Kenya with a haul of ivory was fined less than a dollar (euro) a piece.
The smuggler, who was arrested carrying 439 pieces of worked ivory while in transit in Nairobi as he travelled from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Hong Kong, was fined $350 (270 euros) and was then set free.
Such fines pose little if any deterrence, with experts suggesting a kilogramme of ivory has an estimated black market value of some $2,500.
Last year poachers slaughtered 384 elephants in Kenya, up from 289 in 2011,according to official figures, from a total population of around 35,000. This year, poachers have already shot dead 74.
Tourism is one of Kenya’s most important foreign currency earners.
In addition, a thousand new wildlife officers “will soon be recruited to beef up the ranger force” as part of strengthening operations “with a view to stamping out the poaching menace”, Kariuki added.
The illegal ivory trade is mostly fuelled by demand in Asia and the Middle East, where elephant tusks and rhinoceros horns are used to make ornaments and in traditional medicine.
Trade in elephant ivory, with rare exceptions, has been outlawed since 1989 after elephant populations in Africa dwindled from millions in the mid-20th century to some 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.
Africa is now home to an estimated 472,000 elephants, whose survival is threatened by poaching as well as a rising human population that is encroaching on their habitat.
Kenya is also a transit point for ivory smuggled from across the region.
In January, officials in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa seized more than two tonnes of ivory, which had reportedly come from Tanzania and was destined for Indonesia.
Countries making large seizures of illegal ivory will be required to conduct DNA tests to determine their origin under new anti-trafficking measures adopted on Wednesday.
The agreement at a major wildlife conservation conference in Bangkok follows a surge in poaching of the African elephant to the worst levels since international ivory trade was banned in 1989.
Conservationists say origin, transit and consumer countries are all struggling to tackle criminal gangs involved in the lucrative trade.
In order to better track the illicit commerce, a nation that makes a seizure of at least 500 kilos of ivory should take samples and analyse them within 90 days, according to a resolution adopted by 178 member countries of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Modern laboratories can determine “fairly exactly where the elephant has been killed”, according to Peter Pueschel of the conservation group International Fund for Animal Welfare.
The tests will help detect “the middlemen and the kingpin behind the crimes”, and to locate poaching hotspots to enable increased efforts to protect those elephants still alive, he said.
The agreement — under which all major seizures made within the past 24 months should also undergo DNA analysis where possible — was hailed as a “major success” by Kenya.
“Ivory that has been seized from Africa — whether it is in Zimbabwe (or) in Malaysia — we’ll be able to trace the origin of ivory,” said Kenyan delegate Patrick Omondi.
Illicit trade in ivory has doubled since 2007 and more than tripled over the past 15 years, according to wildlife groups, which estimate that only about 420,000 to 650,000 elephants remain in Africa.
Conservationists fear that 2012 was an even deadlier year than 2011, when an estimated 25,000 African elephants were killed.
In Thailand, a top market, criminals exploit legal trade in tusks from domesticated Asian elephants to sell illicit stocks of African ivory.
No longer is wildlife conservation the sole territory of celebrities and big budgets. A new generation of conservationists like Marcel Romdane, who pretty much on their own, thanks largely to passion, conviction and many helping hands; is leading the way for regular people – like you and I – to join in the movement to save elephants.
“It’s heartbreaking to watch,” Marcel Romdane narrated as he showed me the exclusive video footage of Toto, a 15-year-old elephant bull that was attacked by a poacher’s poisoned spear, whom later succumbed to his severe injuries.
Toto’s emotional 6-week struggle for survival was widely followed by well-wishers throughout the world thanks to updates on Fly 4 Elephants Facebook page, a German foundation founded by Marcel Romdane and Nicole Tepperies to patrol the airspace in Naboisho Conservancy, Maasai Mara, Kenya. After watching the heart-rending video of Toto’s last attempt to stand, it is easy to understand why Romdane, a master wildlife photographer would move to Kenya, leaving everything behind, to do his part in saving elephants from the cruel realities of poachers and a thriving global ivory trade.
In January 2012, Romdane moved to Kenya from Germany, he only knew a few people, the team behind Hemingways Collection. With their help, Romdane has been based in Ol Seki, Naboisho Conservancy on a full-time basis since October 2012, patrolling the conservancy from the air. Romdane credits Fly 4 Elephants’ effectiveness in its short inception to many “helping hands” including Hemingways Mara and the The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust for lending their support.
Patrolling from the skies: Seeing the bigger picture with Marcel Romdane
I’ve always wanted to see the Maasai Mara from the skies, get a glimpse of what our Creator would see looking down, admiring the beauty of the expansive Kenyan landscape. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to join Romdane, in his small yellow 2-seater Piper Super Cub plane, on a late afternoon elephant patrol flight.
With my travels, I’ve had my share of run-ins with pilots and their arrogant tendencies. “There’s nothing that’s impossible.” Ok then. Romdane said this without being condescending or grand. Indeed, there is nothing self-regarding or intimidating about Romdane. Watching him prepare his plane and push it out of the hanger aidless is a joy, but he’s also very good company. For a pilot who admits he is “very uncomfortable with heights,” I guess there is nothing that’s impossible.
“Just because I’m afraid of something doesn’t mean I won’t try and go do it.”
Wearing a white Fly 4 Elephants t-shirt, khaki cargo pants, weathered brown leather belt, wind-resistant down-vest and a set of aviators; Romdane looked back to ensure I was properly strapped in.
Born to parents who embraced travel and photography – his father was a photographer and his mother owned a travel agency – by sheer persistence, Romdane has become a wildlife conservationist and activist; leaving a decadent lifestyle of a businessman behind. He sees himself as a kind of intermediary between vulnerable elephants and the rest of the world.
On a safari in Botswana, it was in 2005 that Romdane first became interested in African elephants, and became intrigued with the largest land animal on Earth.
“To me, elephants are how humans should be like – social and with a great sense of community.”
At that moment, photographing wildlife and capturing Nature’s beautiful moments was Romdane’s main gig. Unable to let go of his unforgettable initial meeting with elephants, Romdane realized a greater passion, and in 2012 co-founded Fly 4 Elephants, received a pilot licence, bought a plane, and moved to Kenya.
When asked if leaving everything behind in Germany was difficult, a curt Romdane simply answered: “I never do things half-way,” he said. “When I find my passion, I put all of myself into it.”
Without any major financing or support from donors, Romdane and his team sell his photography prints to support the operational costs of Fly 4 Elephants.
“I’ve made some money selling my prints,” he said. “But with how expensive aviation fuel and maintenance of a plane is, one of the hardest challenges is to keep the plane airborne.”
All donations to Fly 4 Elephants go directly towards fuel and maintenance of the plane. With two daily elephant patrol flights, Romdane burns through approximately 1,000L of fuel per month.
With the support of more helping hands, Romdane hopes to increase the presence and number of Fly 4 Elephants patrol planes in the Maasai Mara, and to offer training to interested pilots. “Finding pilots is not the problem, a lot of people want to work for us [Fly 4 Elephants], but finding proper bush pilots are.”
And since Fly 4 Elephants began their daily patrol flights, residents have seen an increase in the number of elephants in the Naboisho Conservancy.
“I cannot say the patrol flights have directly saved the elephants, but indirectly, just the presence of us [Fly 4 Elephants] in the air has increased the safety of the conservancy for elephants and deterred poachers,” Romdane explained. “And, if the elephants feel safe, they will return.”
Like a breath of fresh air, Romdane’s simple, black-and-white approach to life is sobering. A man of many passions in his lifetime, the former martial arts’ instructor , turned businessman, turned wildlife photographer, turned pilot, turned wildlife conservationist believes that even if he were to find a new passion, it would be about how to save more elephants. Romdane is a man who never does things half-hearted, and has little to no regrets in life.
“We see things the way we are,” Romdane revealed. “After seeing so much suffering of elephants, the only regret would be if I lose the eye to capture the same photographs I’ve come to be known for.”
He does recall feeling over-privileged and extremely lucky in life.
“I mean, when you come from a lifestyle of having a beach house, three cars…you realize less or more money doesn’t make your life any happier.”
Romdane ultimately hopes to preserve the beauty of Kenya and looks forward to the day when there will be Fly 4 Elephant patrol flights in every conservancy in his adopted country. He’s here to stay.
“The only place I feel at home is in the Mara.”
For those who wish to support Fly 4 Elephants or would like to enquire about how you can fly with Marcel Romdane (offering flights for tourists in return for an in-kind donation to the foundation to participate on a patrol flight, highlightling Fly 4 Elephants’s mission), please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow @fly4elephants for the latest on conservation efforts of the African elephant in Kenya.
Conservationists on Tuesday urged Thailand to end its legal trade in ivory to help curb the slaughter of African elephants by poachers cashing in on their highly-prized tusks.
While it is illegal to sell tusks from African elephants in Thailand, ivory from their Thai cousins can be traded — a loophole allowing criminal networks to launder their wares through the kingdom, according to the WWF.
“The only way to prevent Thailand from contributing to elephant poaching is to ban all ivory sales,” said Janpai Ongsiriwittaya, of WWF-Thailand.
“Today the biggest victims are African elephants, but Thailand’s elephants could be next,” Janpai added, urging Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to ban the ivory trade to protect the “iconic animals”.
Demand for ivory is high in Thailand, where some wealthy people hang tusks on their walls as status symbols and the tradition of ivory carving is popular with tourists and collectors.
WWF says black marketeers routinely smuggle ivory from African elephants — considered a “vulnerable” species — into the kingdom and pass it off as coming from the Asian pachyderm, fuelling the poaching crisis.
“Many foreign tourists would be horrified to learn that ivory trinkets on display next to silks in Thai shops may come from elephants massacred in Africa,” said Elisabeth McLellan, manager of WWF’s Global Species Programme.
“It is illegal to bring ivory back home and it should no longer be on sale in Thailand.”
The international trade in elephant ivory, with rare exceptions, has been outlawed since 1989 after elephant populations in Africa dropped from millions in the mid-20th century to some 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.
But poaching is at record levels in Africa, prompting Kenya’s prime minister last week to appeal for international help to handle the escalating problem.
The appeal came after a family of 11 elephants were slaughtered in a national park in southeast Kenya — which says it lost at least 360 elephants last year, an increase from the 289 killed in 2011.
A haul of more than a tonne of ivory worth about $1.4 million was found in Hong Kong two weeks ago in a shipment from Kenya.
For those who like their coffee with a strong nose Thailand could be the ideal destination, after a blend made from elephant dung was put on sale by an upmarket hotel chain.
The Black Ivory blend, made from coffee beans digested and excreted by Thai elephants, is billed as producing a particularly smooth cup.
But it is not cheap, with Anantara Hotels saying the “naturally refined” coffee costs a staggering $1,100 per kilogram — making it one of the most expensive blends in the world.
“Research indicates that during digestion, the enzymes of the elephant break down coffee protein,” the Thai-based hotel group, which is selling the pungent brew at around $50 for two cups, said in a statement sent to AFP Thursday.
“Since protein is one of the main factors responsible for bitterness in coffee, less protein means almost no bitterness.”
Once the elephants have digested the coffee berries, the beans are picked out of their dung by mahouts — their trainers — and then sun-dried.
The process is carried out at the hotel’s elephant rescue centre in Thailand’s north where 30 of the beasts live along with mahouts and their families.
Black Ivory is not the first novelty blend to hit the market in recent years. Coffee passed through the civet, a tree-dwelling mammal in the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia, sells for a similar price.
One New York coffee shop sells the civet coffee for $748 a kilogram.
Former NBA star Yao Ming wound up a 10-day shoot in Kenya last week, where he decried the total waste by poachers who kill elephants for ivory.
At a packed press conference at a Nairobi hotel, the 7-foot plus Chinese celebrity narrated his experience in Kenya and his mission with conservation organisation WildAid.
Dressed in a yellow t-shirt, Yao towered over the rest of the panellists at the conference. He described the murder of elephants as an utter shame, and said he hoped to help put an end to it.
“People took a small piece of the elephant and left the most behind, but the small piece they took away was not only the ivory, but also the life…,” he said.
An emotional Yao refused to express how he felt when he saw the murdered animals.
Yao is starring in a feature-length documentary that will be aired on Chinese international television, aimed at discouraging Chinese locals from buying ivory products and rhino horns.
Yao is an ambassador with WildAid, who are driving the campaign, and their joint efforts have been rewarded before with a similar crusade by the former basketball player against Shark Fin soup.
WildAid Founder Peter Knights said that just preventing poaching will not solve the problem.
“If you don’t reduce the demand (for ivory) you will not succeed, all you will do is you will end up driving up the price,” he said at the press conference, where he was flanked by the Kenya Wildlife Service Director Julius Kipn’getich.
“Africa has only 400,000 elephants left. If you kill all the 400,000 elephants, where will you get more ivory? It’s time to say no, only elephants should wear ivory,” said the KWS boss.
Film crew who were involved with shooting the documentary described Yao as a gentle soul, who genuinely cared about the project he was involved in.
“He was really moved by what he saw,” said one of the camera assistants.
The crew was called back to Nanyuki after two elephants carcasses were found by rangers, which they incorporated into the documentary, titled ‘The End of the Wild’.
July 19, 2011 – Wednesday July 20th 2011 marks the first ever African Elephant Law Enforcement Day, which fosters cooperation to combat elephant poaching and ivory trafficking in Africa.
Spearheaded by the Lusaka Agreement Task Force for Co-operative Enforcement Operations Directed at Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora (LATF) in Kenya, the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies in Japan, and the Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC) at the University of Twente in the Netherlands; the Wildlife Enforcement Monitoring System (WEMS) will be launched in Africa.
The WEMS will strengthen information and reporting processes as well as the monitoring of illegal wildlife trade at national and regional levels. Through building a common data collection and streamlining the reporting mechanism, the WEMS will be an information sharing platform that will be able to map wildlife crime trends and threat assessments.
“This is an important milestone towards achieving the ultimate objective to create an information center of wildlife crime in Africa by pooling data on illegal trade from various national agencies in the region,” stresses Mr. Bonaventure Ebayi the Director of LATF, at the launch of the Wildlife Enforcement Monitoring System in Nairobi, Kenya on Monday.
Yes, Poaching Still Exists Today
Despite tighter restrictions and bans, illegal poaching and the ivory trade is still claiming thousands of endangered wildlife.
From souvenirs to jewellery, elephant tusks have been driving an underground ivory economy. In 2010, a total of 7,901kg of elephant tusks disguised in packages originating from Kenya were confiscated.
Disposing Of Contraband Ivory in Manyani
As July 20th celebrates the African Elephant Law Enforcement Day, it seems fitting that 7.2 tonnes of contraband ivory originating from South Africa seized in Singapore in June 2002 will be disposed of at the KWS Field Training School in Manyani, Kenya.
PHOTOBLOG: Launch of 1st African Elephant Law Enforcement Day