John Frederick Walker

JFW Science Metropolis interview

Posted in ivory news by JFW on January 28, 2009

Before my Harvard Museum appearance, I was interviewed by Joseph Caputo for the Boston-based blog, Science Metropolis:

http://www.sciencemetropolis.com/2009/01/15/the-ivory-trade-lives-o

The Ivory Trade Lives On

Jan 15

Long before gold and gemstones, humans were drawn to ivory. Europeans and Americans were especially found of the material, considered the plastic of its age. It was used to make everyday objects from combs to piano keys. By the 1980s, elephant poaching reached record levels in East Africa, provoking a worldwide outcry that led to an ivory trade ban still in effect.

But that’s not the end of the story. The ivory trade still resonates today. Journalist and conservationist John Frederick Walker discusses the past and future of the ivory trade in his new book, “Ivory Ghosts: The White Gold of History and the Fate of Elephants.” He will be speaking at the Harvard Museum of Natural History this Saturday, January 17, 2009 at 2:00 pm.

What kinds of issues does the ivory trade continue to raise? Science Metropolis editor Joseph Caputo asked Walker about his research.

Q: Why are elephants still being killed for their tusks? Who’s buying it?

The ivory ban only governs international trade in ivory. It doesn’t have anything to do with the internal buying, selling, possessing, collecting of ivory within each country. In North America and Europe, there are vast amounts of worked ivory, that is ivory that’s been carved into something. The issue that is disturbing is that some of it might be masquerading as ivory that is pre-ban when actually it’s poached ivory being snuck into the country.

Q: What role does the online auction-site eBay play in the modern ivory story?

EBay, under pressure from animal advocacy groups, decided that the possibility that there might be some objects being sold on eBay coming from poached ivory was enough to convince them to shut down all ivory sales. I’m not so sure that’s going to help reduce poaching or the flow of illegal ivory. It was a very well organized and central site and that it probably could have been monitored for that kind of illegal activity.

Q: Why would officials at Kruger National Park in South Africa need to thin their elephant herds?

That disturbs a lot of people but they’re so used to thinking of elephants being persecuted in most parts of Africa. They don’t understand that in the southern tier of Africa, those countries have been very successful with their elephant conservation. They’ve had such success that they have too many elephants for the habitat that’s available.

In Kruger National Park, which is the size of New Jersey, has a population of over 12,000 elephants. The habitat there can only support about 8,000 unless you’re willing to let the park’s biodiversity deteriorate. Elephants can literally transform their landscape into a desert. They are slowly eating up the park and having a huge impact on the vegetation.

After much outcry and discussion, park officials have decided they cannot take culling off the list of possible management techniques. They will use it as a last resort if there’s no other way to bring their numbers under control. But, it’s almost certain that they’re going to have to do that.

Q. Is there a possible end for the ivory trade?

I do not believe the ivory trade will ever end because as long as there are elephants there’s going to be ivory. You don’t have to kill elephants to get their ivory, you just have to wait for them to die. Their tusks are routinely stockpiled in the warehouses of African parks and reserves. Given its status as a desirable material in human history, many people around the world can’t understand why there’s anything wrong with the ivory that comes from elephants that die of natural causes.”

Tagged with: ,

JFW on book tour, Part I

Posted in ivory news by JFW on January 14, 2009

Tomorrow I’m off on the first leg of a national book tour, giving lectures at museums and zoos on Ivory’s Ghosts:

NEW YORK, NY
January 14, 2009, 6:30 pm
American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West at 79th Street

CAMBRIDGE, MA
January 17, 2009, 2 pm
Harvard Museum of Natural History
26 Oxford Street

HOUSTON, TX
January 20, 2009, 6:30 pm
Houston Museum of Natural Science
One Herman Circle Drive

DENVER, CO
January 22, 2009, 7 pm
Denver Museum of Nature & Science
2001 Colorado Blvd

LOS ANGELES, CA
January 24, 2009, 3 pm
Los Angeles Zoo
5333 Zoo Drive

Comments Off on JFW on book tour, Part I

National Geographic Adventure review of Ivory’s Ghosts

Posted in ivory news by JFW on December 11, 2008

In the December 2008/January 2009 issue of National Geographic Adventure, Anthony Brandt has a review of Ivory’s Ghosts. Here’s an excerpt:

“…the author is a specialist in the megafauna of Africa, and this book is an invaluable primer on African conservation policy. Walker has been all over the continent, sifting the wisdom of the most eminent elephant behaviorists, from Ian Whyte at Kruger to Iain Douglas-Hamilton, the guiding force behind Save the Elephants. While Walker doesn’t pretend to offer definitive answers to the threats these pachyderms face, understanding the importance of the issues he raises is critical to the survival of more than elephants. In this comprehensive work with a serious message, there is never a dull moment.”

Tagged with: ,

eBay ivory sales controversy

Posted in ivory news by JFW on November 19, 2008

Science journalist Brendan Borrell has an article in Slate (“eBay and Ivory,” Nov. 13, 2008) that asks if the auction site’s recent ban on ivory products will actually help elephants. His incisive examination references Ivory’s Ghosts along the way, and ends with some fresh ideas on tracking ivory sales. Here’s an excerpt:

“Wild elephants are never going to be tolerated in Africa so long as locals cannot profit from the animals’ most valuable asset: those 120-pound teeth. As journalist John Frederick Walker argues in his provocative new book, Ivory’s Ghosts: The White Gold of History and the Fate of Elephants (to be published in January), the high regard with which American zoo-goers hold these proboscideans is not shared by poverty-stricken farmers in Kenya, who must contend with 4-ton living bulldozers rampaging their cassava fields and threatening their lives. Flip through African newspapers, and you’ll find lurid headlines describing trampled schoolchildren, panicked villagers, and nightly curfews. Americans would not put up with life under those conditions, yet we have imposed this imperial vision on a far-off continent that we imagine as our private zoo.”

Read the entire article at:http://www.slate.com/id/2204526/

Tagged with: ,