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GPS Trackers in Fake Elephant Tusks Reveal Ivory Smuggling Route (npr.org)
224 points by merah on Aug 16, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 66 comments



If you live in Washington state and would like to do something about preventing further poaching, please vote Yes on Initiative-1401 which will be on the state ballot in this fall [0].

Furthermore, anyone can donate for example to the International Anti-Poaching Foundation[1][2] which fights these poachers. The founder, Damien Mander[3], is an Australian ex spec-ops sniper who is using his military experience to train the park rangers since they, unlike the poachers, tend to be poorly equipped and trained as well as understaffed.

There is also the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust[4][5] which takes care of elephant and rhino orphans (most of them are orphans due to poaching). For $50 a year, you can become a sponsor of a particular orphan and they'll send you photos and updates about how your sponsored orphan is doing. I've been giving these out as gifts with good successes. You can for example sponsor this little fella [6].

[0] http://saveanimalsfacingextinction.org/

[1] http://www.iapf.org/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Anti-Poaching_Fo...

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Damien_Mander

[4] http://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Sheldrick_Wildlife_Trust

[6] https://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/asp/orphan_profile.as...


I can't vote for I-1401 and it's not because I am in favor of the trafficking of endangered animal parts. The initiative is fatally flawed, in my opinion, because it creates yet another crime that is punishable with time in jail but has no elements of intent or willfulness. Just like the absurdity of finding a bald eagle feather on the ground and, not knowing what it is, taking it home and using it in a mural that is later "sold or distributed" then being convicted of trafficking in part of an endangered species, I-1401 continues and broadens that trend.

If only the new section 3, paragraph 1 had read: "...for a person, who knew or reasonably should have known that the animal source is a covered animal species, to sell, offer to sell..."

Until then, I'm not willing to give license to criminalize any more accidental or unknowing behavior, especially not with jail time and a mandatory minimum penalty of TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS, which is four-freaking-times the total market value needed to be convicted of "unlawful trafficking in the second degree." (Section 3, paragraph (4)(a).)


Also in terms of ivory it won't achieve much if the bulk of the demand is from China and similar places. Though I guess it might set an example for Asian countries to pass similar laws.


The US is the second largest consumer of ivory in the world. Illegal ivory comes to the US through China so by banning it in the US, you are actually reducing demand in China as well.


Are you aware of anyone who was actually prisoned for the bald eagle feather thing?


I second David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. My in-laws have visited their sponsored elephants multiple times in person, and are really really impressed by the quality of work being done by these guys!


Perhaps this link is more relevant to anyone interested into Initiative-1401 [0]?

[0] http://sos.wa.gov/_assets/elections/initiatives/FinalText_78...


Does I-1401 also prohibit the sale of antiques?


There's an exception

Section 3 paragraph 2 http://sos.wa.gov/_assets/elections/initiatives/FinalText_78...

"The covered animal species part or product is part of a bona fide antique, provided the antique status of such an antique is established by the owner or seller thereof with historical documentation evidencing provenance and showing the antique to be not less than one hundred years old, and the covered animal species part or product is less than fifteen percent by volume of such an antique;"


According to section 3(2)(a) of the initiative, it appears that bona fide antiques 100 years or older are exempted given they are no more than 15% protected animal part/product by volume. Musical instruments get the same exemption.

http://sos.wa.gov/_assets/elections/initiatives/FinalText_78...


In theory they do. In practice, there's occasional issues with foreign musicians having their bows confiscated when they travel to the US (as they contain a small amount of ivory), e.g. http://www.theviolinchannel.com/ivory-bow-new-york-airport-c...

It's a sensitive issue in the musical world. For a while (I haven't checked recently) it became illegal to sell or transport a piano with ivory keys no matter its year of manufacture (the piano industry moved away from natural ivory as late as the 1950s, so there's plenty of pianos on the market which fall under the ban).

Edit: more recent: http://www.thespectrum.com/story/life/2015/08/07/ivory-ban-i...


Well, don't travel with those bows. I too would get my weed confiscated if I traveled with it. You know how I solved this conundrum? I don't travel with it.

> it became illegal to sell or transport a piano with ivory keys no matter its year of manufacture

As it should be.


The analogy would work if the instruments we're talking about weren't priceless, decades-old rarities whose quality is part of the reason the musician is in demand...

Also worth noting in the second case that a permit was issued and the instruments were still confiscated.


> decades-old rarities whose quality is part of the reason the musician is in demand...

Somehow I doubt that.

> Also worth noting in the second case that a permit was issued and the instruments were still confiscated.

To be honest, I really don't care. Illegal ivory is impossible to distinguish from legal ivory and it's better to err on the side of caution.


It is perfectly easy to distinguish: if your bow was made by a master craftsman in 1925 and has the permits to prove it (as per its $100k value it better have them), you know that the elephant wasn't killed last year by a poaching gang.

Nevertheless, I am not discussing whether one should ban ivory or not. If US citizen want to ban old bows from being used in performances on their territory it is their choice to do so, and I broadly agree, based on what limited information I have read, that only a blanket ban can be effective.

What worries me is the tendency of law enforcement in this case to deviate from the rule of law. If someone has a permit and this permit is somehow invalidated upon their arrival, despite their having been told that everything was in order at departure (as was also the case in a previous thread about visas), individual rights have been infringed. It is not because it is something where many people have strong feelings (ivory and the slaughtering of African elephants) and the group of individuals affected is both small (classical musicians) and non-citizen, that the bending of the rules should be excused. Do you disagree with that position?

(I won't argue about demand. I personally am more likely to see a performance if the performer uses a rare instrument, such as a Stradivarius or an Amati. I discovered Guarneri via Leonid Kagan recordings, which were hair raisingly beautiful. Anecdotes don't make data, etc.)


> if your bow was made by a master craftsman in 1925

the year of manufacturing is impossible to determine without a lab

> has the permits to prove it

the issue is that the customs officers who are supposed to be in charge of this are very understaffed. for example, there's only 6 customs employees dealing with this for all cargo coming into nyc and nj. it's impossible for them to check all of it. forgery is also very common.

> What worries me is the tendency of law enforcement in this case to deviate from the rule of law.

are you going to generalize from that one instance? if you have more examples, please provide them. also this is something that happens at the customs quite a bit. idk, do you care this much about other things confiscated during import even if they had the permits? yeah, sure, i care maybe a bit but fundamentally i don't care.

> Do you disagree with that position?

Well, we kind of have to pick our fights. And I know which one I picked.


Let me clarify your position: because a. it is not a subject you care about b. it "happens quite a bit" c. in this case it helps your position which is "good" (the ivory ban) you "don't care" that the rule of law is breached?

I outright disagree with this position, which has been quite common in the US recently ("well, those CIA prisons have been happening quite a bit, and it helps the fight against terrorism anyway, plus, those are terrorists, they don't have any rights anymore. Not going to affect me anyway, I'm American, and I'm on the good side."). And you can go back to the lynch mobs of the Wild West for a more visual version.

Not wishing to be overdramatic, I did not bring up Niemoller until now, but his point stands. And of course there is the issue of flavours of patriotism (or loyalty to a cause) which is split into "my country right or wrong" vs "do the right thing no matter what". Aside from moral considerations, being in the "right or wrong" camp often backfires by providing the opposition with intellectual ammo to slow it down with.

To answer your question I care not one bit about what gets confiscated so long as it gets confiscated legally. It is good that you are fighting for the African elephants and I admire you for it. But I disagree that one has to behave above the law because of it.


Hahaha, yes, confiscations of ivory are LITERALLY the same thing as CIA prisons and as Nazis.


Are they not different grades of the same thing, the infringement of individual rights?

Note I said illegal confiscations and you removed it. This is actually a very important point, in a system that assumes the law is our best guess at protecting individual rights.


Well in my eyes, there is no such thing as legal ivory as it's gray area at best. It's similar to the synthetic drugs. Yeah, they are not explicitly illegal but you are a fool if you think that they won't be confiscated if they are found by the customs.


in my eyes

The law is not what's in your eyes, it's what's established by elected legislatures. And the proposed Washington law says that there is legal ivory if it's over 100 years old, and/or a very small part by volume of a musical instrument.


what's your point?


In which case my reaction to the law should be the same: opposition. Then again, I find prohibition to be a stupid policy. Why is a war on ivory going to be any less stupid than a war on drugs?


Because they are fundamentally different in terms of possible enforcement of the law, production of the material as well as what part of the illegal activity is actually detrimental to society.

The argument that banning the sales won't work because it doesn't work for drugs is just silly. Do you see a black market say for Kinder Surprise eggs?


Check out the National Geographic article with much more detail: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/tracking-ivory/article.htm...

There's an interactive map too: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/tracking-ivory/map.html


Wow this is a much better version of the story. Thanks


Is there a way of reaching future generations of Chinese effectively? A lot of Chinese antiques are, to my eye, quite gauche. Are they still status symbols for the new, rising middle class?

I believe Yao Ming has done some work raising awareness around the ivory trade. Any other revered Chinese celebrities?


Yao has been great for conservation - I think that's his project now - attempting to change cultural values via the power of his celebrity. Considering how big China is, any progress Yao makes will have global impact. We got to support him!


A GPS tracker becomes useless if it can't see any satellites; having worked with GPS before and seeing how effective even a thin layer of metal can attenuate the signal significantly, I'm curious as to how they were able to make this work. It seems highly unlikely that someone smuggling a tusk would leave it in clear view of the sky.


The full story details some of the tech. It was pretty well thought out. IIRC, the device communicated periodically via sat phone and would cache geodata so that if the sat phone ping failed, it could transmit previous location.


Iridium device locations can also be requested from the network based on what satellite/beam communicated through which is "accurate to within 10Km 80% of the time"


Would a wooden crate have the same effect as the metal?


Is there an ethical issue with flooding the market with replica ivory? It would at least raise transaction costs and risks for poachers and their supply chains.


> Is there an ethical issue with flooding the market with replica ivory?

It might lead to people being killed for knowingly or unknowingly passing off fake ivory as the real thing.


Doesn't sound like these people matter anyway. It's like saying "might lead to druglords being killed".


The drug war should already have taught us that it's counterproductive to view offenders as generic nuisances rather than people to be negotiated with.

The ivory trade, like the drug trade, is entrenched. There are a lot of people involved. There’s a large, complex, long-standing, and covert structure to deal with. As law enforcement has so clearly demonstrated, you can’t solve behavioral problems at scale with contempt and violence.

The really thorny problems in the world won’t be beaten into submission. To negotiate our way out of this problem, it’s necessary to see the offenders as real, valuable human beings.


> The drug war should already have taught us that it's counterproductive to view offenders as generic nuisances rather than people to be negotiated with.

The lesson of the drug war is twofold: it is immoral to dictate what a person does with their body to the extent they are not harming society, and it is impractical to try to limit the harm drug use does to society by criminalizing drug use and sale. However that is not equivalent to saying, for example, that we ought to try to reason with and come to an understanding with vicious drug cartels. I was proud that I could vote to legalize marijuana in Washington State, and I hope it's a small step on the road to a total dismantling of the War On Drugs. But the point of all that is to weaken the cartels so that they may be destroyed. I would happily bury every member of Los Zetas at the center of the Earth.

So it goes with poaching syndicates.


Is the life of an African smuggler or Chinese merchant really more valuable than the life of an elephant? 500,000 elephants, 1 Billion Africans, 1.5 Billion Chinese. It is clear who we should be saving.


You really should stop thinking of people who do a bad thing as abstract, one-dimensional monsters. Poachers and smugglers aren't smirking Captain Planet villains; many of them are thugs, but many of them are men with wives, children, elderly parents, trying to make ends meet in a desperately poor part of the world.

What they're doing is harmful and needs to be stopped; sometimes violence may sadly be necessary to protect elephant and human lives. That doesn't mean that the life of a mere courier is worthless and can be thoughtlessly discarded.


I never meant to say that the life of a courier is worthless. I do apologize if it came across that way. I just meant to say that the life of an elephant is worth more.


How many elephants do we need to save by selling one person into slavery to make it justified?


Or the unwitting impoverished courier with poor education who doesn't know of the harm of the ivory trade.


That's a very dangerous precedent, and one I have personal experience with, and a very strong opinion on.

People matter. Life matters. Killing those you judge to "not matter" is the beginning of the spiral slide to inhumanity.

Catch, incarcerate, re-educate.

Don't ever kill as a punishment. The death penalty is barbaric, and is only condoned by barbarians.

The people at the bottom end of the ivory trade are probably very similar to the people at the bottom end of the drugs trade, or the piracy (real, not digital) trade. Uneducated, and desperate.


we shouldn't try and prevent criminals from killing each other especially when it comes to the extinction of another species.


Yes, we should. The prevention of the extinction of this species would work just as well (probably better) if the perpetrators of the ivory trade were re-educated, rather than killed.

Killing is a simple solution, espoused by simple minds, for very complex problems.


Nevertheless, bullets are cheaper than career counselors.

With the exception of high profile politically motivated assassinations, where the victim becomes a rallying point for civil unrest, murdering your enemies tends to result in having fewer enemies. The world as a whole simply does not care enough about individual humans to invest its resources into rehabilitating criminals rather than punishing them. And when the humane solution would involve a complete overhaul of an entire economy, including improvements to the public education system, you're talking some real money.

Training up a few wildlife rangers and keeping them well stocked with bullets is a minimum viable solution for keeping the elephant herds alive long enough for the local economy to develop enough to make poaching for ivory obsolete. Re-education requires infrastructure that we take for granted in industrialized countries, but is simply not yet present in rural Africa, away from the cities.

Not even the U.S. can pull this off in its own backyard. Re-educate all you want, but if the guy still can't find a job good enough to pay his family after you finish, he'll go right back to growing weed, cooking meth, distilling moonshine, running guns, poaching ivory, or whatever other illegal thing that pays a month of wages or more in one score. And never mind re-education, if educating the first time isn't good enough for a decent job. How many people with a BA in History work in a restaurant or cafe or retail store for their living? Is an ex-con with a GED going to do any better?

Execution may be barbaric, but it produces immediate, visible results, which may be touted by politicians as "doing something about the problem." There's no way they would spring for a solution that would take at least a full generation to take hold, stress the treasury to the breaking point, and end up putting more power in the hands of the common people, rather than keeping it vested in the elites.

You can't rehabilitate just the criminal. You also have to rehabilitate all the circumstances that led to the crime. Otherwise, just as with killing, someone else steps in to fill the niche vacated by the ex-criminal.

Rehabilitation is an expensive solution, espoused by compassionate but impractical minds, for very complex problems.


I'm assuming that you're playing devil's advocate here, and that you don't actually agree with most of what you wrote.

>The world as a whole simply does not care enough about individual humans to invest its resources into rehabilitating criminals rather than punishing them.

The argument over capital punishment is a debate in the US, but not in many other countries.[1]

As of July 2015, of the 195 independent states that are UN members or have UN observer status:

-102 have abolished it for all crimes;

-7 have abolished, but retain it for exceptional or special circumstances (such as crimes committed in wartime);

-50 retain, but have not used it for at least 10 years or are under a moratorium;

-36 retain it in both law and practice.

The map on that Wikipedia entry should show you what esteemed company the US is in with regards to maintaining the death penalty.

>Not even the U.S. can pull this off in its own backyard.

Meghan J. Ryan, in her paper "Death and Rehabilitation"[2] discusses how, in the US, the threat of the death penalty is somehow considered to be a trigger for rehabilitation. A dangerous conflation if ever I saw one, and an article worth reading. I won't quote from it, as it discusses both sides of the argument, and I don't want to cherry pick. You should read it, while remembering that it discusses the topic from a uniquely American viewpoint.

>Training up a few wildlife rangers and keeping them well stocked with bullets is a minimum viable solution for keeping the elephant herds alive long enough for the local economy to develop enough to make poaching for ivory obsolete. Re-education requires infrastructure that we take for granted in industrialized countries, but is simply not yet present in rural Africa, away from the cities.

Regarding poaching, rehab has been proven to work[3]:

During training courses, even convicted poachers have been rehabilitated and sent out to work as rangers

These rangers were part of the problem, and are now part of the solution. If they had been killed, they wouldn't be part of anything. This also seems to show that the problem of training infrastructure in rural Africa is being solved, and that further efforts in this direction would have greater benefit.

Other than that, your argument seems to be that the problem is too large and too expensive. I argue that history has shown that we can, and should change our nature, and that killing isn't as cheap as you suggest.

[1]:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Use_of_capital_punishment_by_c...

[2]:http://lawreview.law.ucdavis.edu/issues/46/4/Articles/46-4_R...

[3]:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Anti-Poaching_Fo...


We are worried the doing so would simply stimulate new demand for ivory


Increased supply stimulates demand by lowering prices. This would disincentivise poaching.

Assuming the fake ivory is cheap enough to manufacture, this could be a sustainable industry, as well as save wildlife.


Increased supply stimulates demand by lowering prices. This would disincentivise poaching.

That only works if the fake product and the real product are indistinguishable goods. Fake ivory and real ivory are not equivalent; one has value as a status symbol. The cheaper fake ivory becomes, the more of a premium there is on having the real thing.


The same happens the rarer real ivory becomes, yet we see countries destroying ivory and otherwise banning it, making the remaining real stuff all the more valuable.


Think of artificial ivory as the "entry-level ivory". People who would never consider buying real ivory might buy fake ivory, because it is cheap enough. But then they grow so fond of fake ivory, they start to lust after real ivory.

That's the fear, anyway, and it's not total fantasy. Luxury car brands capture new customers with that exact model. The lowest tier of luxury car is even called the "entry-level" segment.


This reminds me a lot of the gateway drug argument used to ban pot.


There are some big differences, but sure, they are reminiscent of eachother.

Experts aren't sure if it would be a problem yet, and are understandably concerned they might simply make the problem worse. Don't rule the concept out simply for vague association with the failing "war on drugs". "Should we flood the market with imitation ivory" and "Should we ban cannabis" are very different questions.


Given two options, both unknown on how they would impact the problem (and near impossible to test even if we did implement a change because we cannot isolate other variables), I would default to the one that increases freedom and decreases imprisoning others.

Also, indirect prohibition has shown to be failure time and time again, often being more harmful than not.


I'm not here to talk about drugs. How does this connect back to ivory and whether or not we should produce large quantities of fake ivory?


That last post was all about ivory, not about drugs. That it can be so easily confused shows the connection between the two.


And it would raise prices for the real thing


While I read the article, I'm currently unable to listen to either the npr or nat geo articles.

Could anybody elaborate on how they pass off the fake tusks to the smugglers? Do they, for lack of a better word, install the tusks on the elephants and wait for the elephants to be poached or do they sell the tusks to the smugglers so the smugglers can flip the tusks?


I think in one instance they staged a motorbike accident which was loaded with a custom replica tusk. The "poacher/smuggler" pretended to run from the scene thus leaving unattended an item of apparent high value which was subsequently "stolen" and thus entered into the smuggling economy surreptitiously.

The investigator is understandably a big cagey about methods, etc. so as not to expose people and future investigations.


My first guess would be flipping a caught smuggler, or an undercover agent at some level. I imagine they have to use a real tusk, though I couldn't listen to it right now either.


I listened to the interview on the radio; it was two fake tusks he had carefully made, good enough to get him arrested at the airport there.


I have a fake whale tooth. I found it years ago. It has scrimshaw, and so old, I didn't get destroy it. I never told anyone because I was ashamed. I didn't know how the tooth was obtained. I assumed it was at least 200 years old.

Well I found out it's a fake, but it's a really good fake. The guy I brought it to didn't realize at first, but eventually determined it was a fake. He then said, "If they can get polymers so close to real Ivory 40 years ago--why are they still killing animals for it?"

I hope China follows through on their plan to stop the sale of Ivory, but I have a feeling we need to step up our efforts to stop this. If it was up to me, I would have these areas protected by the National Guard.(If Africa would allow us there for this specific reason?)

I hate to even bring up that Dentist, but I congratulate the companies that rufused to be accomplices in this horrid, despicable hobby? I don't know know Ted N, or crazy Alaskan woman can condone his retched behavior? In my mind, I have my hands around that dentist's neck.


http://vetpaw.org does something similar to what you're suggesting re: the National Guard.


Thanks-





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