Elephants massacred as ivory trade picks up

As many as 23,000 elephants may have been killed in just one year, as an international effort to stem the ivory trade has fallen to the wayside, particularly in Africa. Increased demand for white tuskiness in Japan and China, combined with declining funding for anti-poaching programs, has overwhelmed the intentions of a 1989 ban on international sales of ivory. In the year ending in August 2006, 54,000 pounds of ivory were confiscated in 12 international seizures — and customs officials assume that they find only 10 percent of the smuggled goods. “Right now, things are really much worse than before the ban,” says Samuel Wasser, lead author of a recent study on using DNA testing to determine where poached elephants were killed. With the advent of the new technology, an aggressive resuscitation of anti-poaching programs could be very effective, but there’s no time to waste. Says Wasser, “[I]f we don’t open our eyes to the problem, we can kiss our elephants goodbye.” Get your stepladders ready.