John Frederick Walker

Kenya’s 100 ton ivory burn

Posted in conservation news, ivory news by JFW on April 29, 2016

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On April 30, 2016, Kenya will incinerate 105 metric tons of ivory—5% of global stocks— to “send a message.” Does this make sense?  Or is it a “self-delusional publicity stunt,” as  Mike Norton-Griffiths and Daniel Stiles wrote in the Times of London today, one that could cause a spike in ivory prices, and stimulate more poaching?

Louise Osborne’s piece, “To burn or sell ivory: Which can put an end to elephant poaching?” also appeared today in Deutsche Welle.  She surveys current pro-burn conservation opinion on the planned destruction and also includes my take on the matter:

“John Frederick Walker, who has written widely on the trade of ivory, says ivory has been valued since prehistoric times and is not simply a ‘passing fad.’

‘The earliest carvings humans ever made were from the ivory of woolly mammoth,’ Walker told DW. ‘The attraction to ivory is embedded in world culture, from ancient Egypt to Europe to the far East. It’s a fantasy to think demand is ever going to disappear entirely,’ Walker said.

Instead, Walker advocates a highly restricted, controlled legal trade in naturally occurring ivory. This would work through use of techniques such as radiocarbon dating, micro-chipping and databases to keep track of the industry….”

Unfortunately, such arguments for harnessing demand through managing trade in legal ivory are increasingly viewed as fringe opinions.  That leaves only ivory stockpile destruction and ivory prohibition as strategy options, neither of which is likely to reduce elephant poaching.

How the rare Giant Sable escaped being bred out of existence

Posted in conservation news, giant sable news by JFW on January 15, 2016
Pedro Vaz Pinto at the American Museum of Natural History's Giant Sable diorama

Pedro Vaz Pinto at the American Museum of Natural History’s Giant Sable diorama

Pedro Vaz Pinto, the Angolan researcher who heads conservation efforts to ensure the survival of his country’s national animal, the giant sable antelope, is the lead author of a just-published paper, “Hybridization following population collapse in a critically endangered antelope” in Nature Scientific Reports (link here).  It was Vaz Pinto’s 2009 capture operation that isolated a remnant giant sable population in Cangandala National Park to prevent hybridization with roan antelopes and allow the subspecies to recover.

Will Secret Wildlife Imports Doom Ultra-Rare Giant Sable?

Posted in conservation news, giant sable news by JFW on May 21, 2015

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credit: Richard Estes

My report on the latest threat to the critically endangered giant sable antelope of Angola is now online at National Geographic News.

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JFW on ivory trade at ASIL meeting in Washington DC

Posted in conservation news, elephant and ivory news, ivory news by JFW on April 16, 2015

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On April 9th, I joined Craig Hoover, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Susan Lieberman, Federal Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking, and Anna Frostic, Humane Society of the U.S., on an American Society of International Law panel in Washington, DC organized by Rachelle Adam of Hebrew University. The subject?  “Can International Law Help Prevent the Rapid Disappearance of Wildlife?” The entire panel can be seen on YouTube.  My presentation starts at 17 minutes in, and runs for 13 minutes.

The Case for a Legal Ivory Trade

Posted in conservation news, elephant and ivory news, ivory news by JFW on October 13, 2014

Ivory Trade Debate: Should the International Ban on Ivory Be Lifted?

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“In a Yale Environment 360 debate, author John Frederick Walker and conservationist Mary Rice offer opposing views on whether the global ban on ivory trading should be eased. Walker argues that a partial lifting of the ban would reduce demand for illicit ivory, while Rice insists such a move would only accelerate the slaughter of Africa’s elephants.” Read the entire debate here.

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How China Could Decide the Future of Africa’s Elephants

Posted in conservation news, elephant and ivory news, ivory news by JFW on September 21, 2013

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My most recent piece on the poaching crisis, “How China Could Decide the Future of Africa’s Elephants,” argues for regulated legal ivory trade as a means to engage with China in the elimination of trafficking in tusks.  It’s just been posted on the National Geographic News Watch blog, A Voice for Elephants. Here’s the link.

JFW discusses rhino horn trade on HuffPost live

Posted in conservation news by JFW on July 26, 2013

durer-rhinoceros-1515I appeared on HuffPost Live’s “GreenBrief with Josh Zepps” program to discuss South Africa’s decision to seek permission from CITES to sell some of its rhino horn stockpile.  The country hopes to undermine the black market in this product, valued for its presumed medicinal value in Asia, and also to raise funds to conserve this animal, now plagued by poaching.  South Africa is home to 73 per cent of the world’s rhinos, including over 90% of white rhinos, which it brought back from near extinction last century.

Click here.

The rhino horn segment starts at 17:18 and runs to 26:08.

 

Rethinking Ivory: Why Trade in Tusks Won’t Go Away

Posted in conservation news, elephant and ivory news, ivory news by JFW on June 10, 2013

Tsavo West Ivory BurnMy latest article, “Rethinking Ivory,” appears in the Summer 2013 issue of World Policy Journal, and is now available online. It challenges the conventional wisdom on the ivory trade and argues that a well-regulated commerce in tusks could offer a realistic way forward for elephant conservation.

The link is here:

Giant Sable Genetic Research Critical to its Conservation

Posted in conservation news, giant sable news by JFW on November 22, 2012

Pedro Vaz Pinto at the American Museum of Natural History’s Giant Sable diorama

I had the privilege of traveling with Angolan biologist Pedro Vaz Pinto last week as he visited natural history museums from Washington, DC to Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Stops included the Smithsonian, the American Museum of Natural History, Yale Peabody, and Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology.  His mission? To obtain snippets of skin and tissue from ultra-scarce specimens of Hippotragus niger variani, the giant sable antelope of Angola.

Handsome and sleek as show ponies, the common sable subspecies seen in Botswana, Zambia, and South Africa makes visitors on game-viewing safaris reach for their cameras. But they pale in comparison to the majestic giant sable, found only in Angola, and an icon there. The coal-black males, which carry scimitar-shaped horns over five feet in length, are featured on the country’s currency and the tailfins of its airline. Even the national soccer team is named after the antelopes—which also happen to be one of Africa’s most endangered mammals.

Vaz Pinto estimates that only a hundred of these walking emblems remain.

On a daringly ambitious 2009 expedition into the remote Luando Reserve, Vaz Pinto managed to pull off a conservation coup and locate the remnants of a population long feared a casualty of Angola’s 27-year-long civil war.  He went on to dart and relocate a giant sable bull and nine females to start a captive breeding program in nearby Cangandala National Park. (Read my two-part Africa Geographic article on the expedition, “Antelope From the Ashes”– click here for Part I  and Part II).  So far, the protected herd there, bolstered in number by subsequent translocations, has produced five calves this year.

But Vaz Pinto is all too aware that field work, not matter how impressive, isn’t enough to ensure the giant sable’s future. He’s in a race against time, against bush-meat poaching, against inadequate resources for the nation’s parks and reserves. For the past decade, he’s cajoled officials and the military for support, and local oil companies, like Exxon-Mobil, for funds.

Now he needs more attention from the zoological community. In the past, the taxonomic status of Angola’s legendary antelope was clouded by doubts that it was anything more than a large local variant of the unendangered common sable.

Recent DNA research has confirmed the giant sable’s subspecies status, but Vaz Pinto wants to go a step further. He’s doing doctoral research in the CIBIO lab at Oporto University, Portugal. “We expect to sequence the entire giant sable genome next year,” he says. Such detailed genetic information would provide critical help in guiding the captive breeding program currently underway.  And it also would underscore the giant sable’s stature, hopefully spurring an international push for the conservation it desperately needs.

Vaz Pinto needs samples of historic giant sable material he can analyze. But requests for even tiny snips of skin aren’t treated lightly by museums. It amounts to destructive sampling of a limited supply of specimens. Fortunately, the conservation implications of his ground-breaking laboratory research seem to be overcoming institutional scruples. So far, he’s receiving strong encouragement for his next achievement on behalf of Angola’s national animal.

The Leopard in the Vineyard

Posted in conservation news by JFW on September 13, 2012

My feature article, “The Leopard in the Vineyard,”  has just been published in the September issue of Africa Geographic.  I was pleased to have eight pages for an overview of the South African wine industry’s efforts to balance agriculture and wildlife conservation.

You can access the article here.