By Jeff Knox
Manassas, VA –-(Ammoland.com)- On Thursday, November 14th 2013, the US government crushed nearly 11,000 pounds of raw and carved ivory seized over the last 25 years from smugglers and illegal dealers.
The value of the huge pile of ivory is inestimable as many of the carved pieces are works of art. Nonetheless, it would be safe to assume that the collection was worth well over $10 million dollars.
Small ivory figurines routinely sell for around $500 apiece, and prices have been escalating due to stricter regulation and enforcement of ivory laws.
Ivory is a tricky subject. While walrus tusks and whales teeth are often called ivory, true ivory comes from only one source; the tusks of elephants. Elephants are amazing creatures that roam the wilds of Africa, parts of Asia, and India. In many areas, wild elephants have been driven to the brink of extinction by loss of habitat and poaching. As the largest land mammals on the planet, elephants need a lot of space, food, and water. Human encroachment on elephant lands means that the land can’t support herds of the same size that they once did. During droughts and famine, when elephants would historically migrate to other ranges, they now often have no place to go because man has taken over their fallback areas, consumed the resources, cleared the forests, planted crops, or erected barriers such as highways or residential areas across travel routes. As with all wildlife in conflict with humanity, elephant survival is dependent on humans finding a way to restore some semblance of balance.
The method that has proven most successful around the world for restoring and protecting species is called the “North American Consumptive Model.” In the Consumptive Model of wildlife management, sport hunters play a pivotal role; not only do they cull herds – harvesting excess animals to maintain numbers at healthy, manageable, and sustainable levels – but they also pay for most of the environmental protection and improvement programs through license fees, self-imposed taxes, and voluntary contributions. In many areas, hunters also provide the lion’s share of meat for homeless shelters and other charitable food programs.
While letting hunters kill animals for sport seems counter-intuitive as a wildlife protection scheme, it has proven to be the only system that actually works. Without hunters – and their fees, taxes, and contributions – conservation programs are inevitably under-funded. Without hunters thinning herds, animal populations face a harsh cycle of overpopulation, over-grazing, and massive die-offs due to starvation and disease. Oversized herds cause millions of dollars of destruction to crops and infrastructure, spread diseases to domestic livestock, and destroying vast areas of land with over-grazing and the resultant erosion. Without adequate funding, Governments are unable to manage the wildlife. Conflicts between humans and animals range from deer raiding cornfields to coyotes killing pets, to mountain lions attacking joggers. The result is an expensive toll on the economy and human life. Frequently farmers and ranchers resort to poison or large-scale slaughters to protect their crops, livestock, and lands. Food prices go up, support for wildlife and conservation goes down, and government funding for wildlife protection goes down even further.
The problems of poaching – particularly in Africa – are complex and will never be solved by rules prohibiting dealing in ivory or rhino horn. To find solutions, the problems must first be examined holistically, not in isolation. African poachers are typically desperately poor men trying to feed themselves and their families. They sell the tusks or horns for almost nothing to shady operators who have connections into the black market, and the illicit goods head to retail markets. If the poverty of the locals is not adequately addressed, they will continue to tolerate or participate in poaching. If herd sizes aren’t managed, they will destroy crops – further impoverishing the locals, and often leading to more poaching. If the animals can’t access water or adequate food supplies during times of drought, they will move to other areas, increasing conflicts with man, destruction of property and habitat, and costs to governments and taxpayers.
In response to the destruction of 5.4 tons of ivory, Peter Knights, Executive Director of WildAid compared the illicit ivory trade to trade in heroin, pointing out that we don’t put confiscated heroin back on the streets. He then said that those who opposed the destruction were misguided because allowing restricted, legal trade in ivory had been “a disaster.” He went on to say, “you have to look at history and you have to learn its lessons.”
OK Mr. Knights, let’s look at history and learn some lessons:
- The price of ivory is going through the roof because of regulation and scarcity of supply. That makes each piece of raw ivory more valuable and the $10 billion a year illicit ivory trade even more lucrative.
- Dumping eleven thousand pounds of ivory into the legal market could have generated millions of dollars toward anti-trafficking efforts and caused a drop in the value of ivory overall, reducing the profit motive for poachers and smugglers.
- Everywhere that wildlife management has been tried without a sport-hunting component, it has failed miserably. Only the North American Consumptive Model of wildlife management has a proven record of effective, humane, and responsible conservation.
- African nations with active sport-hunting programs have fewer problems with poachers because hunters pay for wildlife enforcement officers. Hunting guides act as auxiliary enforcement officers in defense of their business. Locals receive work from hunting guides and meat from hunters, and they oppose poachers.
As unpalatable as sport-hunting might be to some, it is the only model proven to be effective at protecting wildlife, habitat, and humans. Anti-hunting groups need to stop being stupid and start embracing what works for wildlife.
Poachers kill for ivory. The rest of the animal is wasted. Some 300 elephants were poisoned recently by poachers hoping to harvest their tusks. Hunters spend thousands of dollars, bolstering local economies, creating jobs, and feeding entire villages with their harvests.
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The Firearms Coalition is a loose-knit coalition of individual Second Amendment activists, clubs and civil rights organizations. Founded by Neal Knox in 1984, the organization provides support to grassroots activists in the form of education, analysis of current issues, and with a historical perspective of the gun rights movement. The Firearms Coalition is a project of Neal Knox Associates, Manassas, VA. Visit: www.FirearmsCoalition.org