China Bridge (神州橋樑)_2015/Nov

Ivory trinkets

Recently, our newspapers and other media have been bringing to our attention the terrible slaughter of many animals – especially in Africa – which, like us, were created by a loving God.

Unfortunately this has been going on for years, but hopefully, with new trade agreements, we may see people all over the world ready to do their part to stop so many cruel deaths.

Elephants have been dying, because some people love to have a piece of their ivory tusks, as jewellery, little trinkets, decorations or to get rich!

Not many of us see elephants in our environment, but I would like to re-acquaint you with these gentle giants.

At the turn of the 20th century, there were a few million African elephants and about 100,000 of their Asian cousins.

Today, those numbers are down to an estimated 450,000 to 700,000 in Africa and between 35,000 to 40,000 in Asia.

Elephants form deep bonds and live in tight matriarchal family groups of related females called a herd, led by the oldest and often largest female in the group, called the matriarch.

Herds range in size from eight to 100 individuals depending on terrain and family size. When a calf is born, it is raised and protected by the whole matriarchal herd.

Males leave the family unit between the ages of 12 and 15 and may lead solitary lives or live temporarily with other males.

Elephants are extremely intelligent animals and have memories that span many years.

It is this memory that serves matriarchs well during dry seasons when they need to guide their herds, sometimes for tens of miles, to watering holes that they remember from the past. They display signs of grief, joy, anger and are playful.

Recent discoveries have shown that elephants can communicate over long distances by producing a sub-sonic rumble that travels over the ground faster than sound through air.

Other elephants receive the message through the sensitive skin on their feet and trunks. It is believed that this is how potential mates and social groups communicate.

Today, elephants are losing their habitats, because of climate change. Projections indicate that key portions of their habitats will become significantly hotter and drier, resulting in poorer foraging conditions and threatening calf survival.

Increasing conflict with encroaching human populations, as well as poaching for ivory have become additional threats that are placing the elephants’ future at risk.

Defenders of Wildlife is working through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to maintain a ban on the sale of ivory, as well as on regulations that govern worldwide elephant protection.

Illegal trade in White Gold (ivory) is a deadly game. If you buy ivory, you kill people. That is the stark message sent by grassroots anti-poaching advocates, who are seeking to transform public perception of the illegal ivory trade.

“The ivory trade is intrinsically linked to a longer trail of human abuses, criminality and the mixed traffic of drugs, weapons and even humans,” Andrea Crosta, the founder of the Elephant Action League and former security and intelligence consultant in Africa, said.

“This is about much more than elephants. Campaigns completely focused on elephants are not working because the cultural values are different. It will take ages to change the mentality of a significant amount of people in places like China,” she continued.

This new message comes at a critical time, with African elephants facing extinction within a decade.

Recently, a series of officials and media reports pointed to the role of the ivory trade -much of which transits through Hong Kong on route to mainland China – to fund terrorist groups across eastern Africa and the Middle East.

A study by the United Nations Environment Programme found that Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army makes up to US$12 million ($93 million) every year trafficking the white gold (SCMP, February 1).

Advocates lament elephant slaughter

Debby Ottman, from the Kariba Animal Welfare Fund Trust, found the carcasses of three elephants which tested positive for cyanide poisoning. The killer had laced oranges with cyanide, which was found in the gut of a male elephant.

Forty elephants were poisoned in Zimbabwe in recent weeks. The killings are partly fuelled by Chinese demand for ivory.

Rampant poaching, coupled with legal hunting, has decimated populations in many areas, with the International Union for Conservation of Nature saying that 100,000 elephants killed in Africa between 2011 and 2013.

The statistics underscore the toxic mix of determined criminal gangs, corrupt government officials and a strong market for smuggled ivory in Asia, particularly in China, which has deepened its economic ties to Africa in recent years.

Tom Milliken, the director of Traffic for Southern Africa based in Harare, Zimbabwe, said criminals seem to be using cyanide, because it was readily available and stealthier than high-powered rifles.

“Most ivory from Africa makes its way to Asia and within Asia. China’s middle class seems to have an insatiable appetite for ivory right now and we are paying the consequences here in Africa” (SCMP, October 18).

Some good news

A joint announcement from the president of United States of America (US), Barack Obama, and the president of China, XI Jinping, on September 26 may mark the beginning of the end of the cruel ivory trade.

XI said his country would match the US commitment to stop any commercial trade in ivory.

This coming-together of the two largest ivory-consuming countries in the world is a watershed moment for the efforts to stop the cruel poaching of elephants for their tusks.

Now, it is more important than ever to cement this commitment by urging the administration to finalise the proposed rule as soon as possible (Wayne Pacelle, Humane Society of the United States, September 26).

The government of Hong Kong has said that it is open to a ban on the domestic trade in ivory – a major policy shift that follows efforts by mainland authorities and the US to eliminate demand for elephant tusks.

The pivot away from the trade comes as green groups widen criticism of the city’s role in supporting the international trade.

On October 23, actor, Li Bingbing, endorsed a call by conservation group WildAid for Hong Kong to join the mainland and the US in banning the domestic ivory trade.

Li said, “Why can’t Hong Kong join them? The vast majority of the Hong Kong public is in favour of a ban.”

Over 90 per cent of ivory sold in Hong Kong is illegally smuggled to the mainland. WildAid chief executive, Peter Knights, said that Hong Kong had been given 26 years to take action since a 1989 ban on trading in new ivory was implemented.

“Enough is enough. There are multiple pieces of evidence from other green groups and independent media showing the system in Hong Kong leaks like a sieve,” he said.

Li one of the stars of the movie, Transformers: Age of Extinction, said that the legal trade in ivory was supposed to ensure that only ivory from natural mortality and government culls was traded, but instead, the African elephant population had halved and legal trade was being used to provide cover for illegal trade.

She added that Hong Kong is the epicentre of the trade “and the chief beneficiary of a system that could turn illegal ivory into legal.”

Elizabeth Quat, a legislator, said she is hopeful the government will act soon. “There’s a very good sign Hong Kong will ban the trade, because after years of campaigning, the government admits there’s a problem” (SCMP, October 24).

On October 11, campaigners took to the streets of Tsimshatsui for the city’s third annual Elephant Walk, calling for the protection of elephants, sharks and pangolins. Braving chilly winds, about 100 participants, dressed in black, demanded a full ban on the ivory trade in Hong Kong.

Starting at the Museum of Art, they handed out pamphlets along the promenade as they marched towards the nearby clock tower, occasionally chanting, “Say no to ivory, say no to shark fin.”

Current reports say that Hong Kong is a major trading hub for illegal ivory products, ranking fifth globally for the quantity of ivory contraband confiscated.

The reports add that the city is also the world’s largest retail market for ivory, with 400 licenced businesses offering more than 30,000 pieces for sale.

Hong Kong’s participation in the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos was originally set for October 4, World Animal Day.

It was postponed due to unstable weather brought on by Typhoon Mujigae. More than 150 cities took part in the event (SCMP, October 12).

Care for our common home

God has written a precious book, “whose letters are the multitude of created things present in the universe.”

The Canadian bishops pointed out that no creature is excluded from this manifestation of God, “From panoramic vistas to the tiniest living form, nature is a constant source of wonder and awe. It is also a continuing revelation of the divine.”

The bishops of Japan made a thought-provoking observation, “To sense each creature singing the hymn of its existence is to live joyfully in God’s love and hope.

“This contemplation of creation allows us to discover in each thing a teaching which God wishes to hand on to us. For the believer, to contemplate creation is to hear a message, to listen to a paradoxical and silent voice.”

“We can say that alongside revelation properly so-called, contained in sacred scripture, there is a divine manifestation in the blaze of the sun and the fall of night.

“Paying attention to this manifestation, we learn to see ourselves in relation to all other creatures: ‘I express myself in expressing the world; in my effort to decipher the sacredness of the world, I explore my own’” (Laudato Si’ # 85).

Mary, the Mother who cared for Jesus, now cares with maternal affection and pain for this wounded world. Just as her pierced heart mourned the death of Jesus, so now she grieves for the sufferings of the crucified poor and for the creatures of this world laid waste by human power. (ibid. #241)

Let’s not buy any more ivory trinkets.