I was interviewed on CCTV-America last night on the ivory trade in a debate with Adam Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA. As always, not enough time to make a number of key points, but was able to discuss some critical issues. The 8-minute exchange is here.
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.
What if we’re wrong about how best to save elephants from being killed for their ivory? In an opinion piece for Earth Island Journal, I argue that a controlled, legal trade is more likely to slow elephant poaching than the outright ban of all ivory trade now widely advocated. The article is here.
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.
“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.
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.
My 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.
Elephant poaching has been much discussed recently in global media, and at the just-concluding CITES conference in Bangkok, for good reason — elephant killings are at an alarming high.
I was interviewed by Chris Cummins on Austrian Broadcasting Corporation’s radio station FM4, which has an English language news magazine program called “Reality Check.” The piece is “The Ivory Wars,” and I’m included in the 15 minute podcast (starting at 12:30 minutes into it), and also in the story that accompanied it. Click here for the podcast/story, which covers the crisis, and what might be done to address it.
ScienceDaily reports that scientists at at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz are working on an innovative reference database to allow the identification of the origin of elephant ivory. The research sounds encouraging—it could be a useful tool in the fight against illegal trade in ivory.
But the report also suggests how more precise ivory identification in the future might also make a limited, regulated and workable ivory trade possible. Here’s the key passage in the section “Trade as necessity—the necessity of trade”:
“…the countries of the southern part of Africa in particular are increasingly arguing that they should be allowed to trade freely in ivory from the stocks they already hold so that they can raise the finances they urgently need for nature conservancy measures. Unfortunately, this method of generating income would not be without its problems: If free trade is permitted, it would become increasingly difficult to differentiate between legal and illegal ivory at the point of sale and the legalized trade could be used as a cover for ivory smuggling and poaching. Isotope maps provide an effective way of resolving this dilemma.”
From: “Reference database to identify origin of elephant ivory.” ScienceDaily 26 November 2010. 29 November 2010 <http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2010/11/101126094538.htm>
I’ll be giving a lecture on ivory and elephants and doing a booksigning at the Brookfield Zoo this coming Tuesday evening as part of their Fall Lecture Series:
John Frederick Walker
Tuesday, September 21
“Author Walker spent five years researching the story of ivory’s enormous impact on its most important source–African elephants–and on human history. Today, the question of what to do with growing stockpiles of legitimate ivory from elephants that die of natural causes is at the heart of an ongoing international debate. Join Walker for an exploration of “white gold”–and the future of elephants.”
The lecture begins at 7:30 p.m. in Brookfield Zoo’s Discovery Center.
For more information, please visit