One might say there’s a lot of ivory in the world thanks to all the elephants who involuntarily gave their lives for mankind to have fancy ivory-crafted stuff. That said, there are a ton of ivory stockpiles out there, and yet poachers still find reasons to continue killing the creatures to obtain even more of the stuff for illegal trading.
According to a new study that appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, most ivory bring traded illegally and seized today doesn’t even come from those existing ivory stockpiles. Rather, at least 90% of it is coming from fresh kills that don’t exceed 3 years beyond the date of being seized.
The researchers obtained their data by dating 231 ivory samples that had been seized from smugglers between 2002-2014. Using a dating technique that measured the level of the radioactive isotope Carbon-14, they were able to determine how old the tusks were.
"It shows that ivory is moving through the system fast. Some of the elephants were killed just before their tusks were thrown in the shipping container," said study coauthor Kevin Uno, a geochemist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "That has huge implications for our estimates of the number of elephants being taken."
The alarming fact of the short age of these tusks continues to renew the seriousness of the threat of elephant poaching, which has skyrocketed in just the past decade and continues to be an ongoing problem. Despite anti-poaching efforts, perhaps nations aren’t doing enough to save these animals and keep ivory off the market.
One striking detail about the study reveals that there is a lag time between the time of an elephant’s death and the time of seizure of the ivory. The lag time has been getting longer and longer as time goes on, which the researchers conclude could be a clear indicator that even poachers are finding it harder to find wild elephants fit for poaching.
There are treaties and laws in place that prevent the legal trading of ivory from elephants killed post-1989, but regardless of rules and regulations, illegal trade continues because people continue to see value in ivory.
Some nations have now resorted to destroying seized illegal ivory to keep it off the black market by either crushing or burning it.
In what seems like a vicious cycle, elephants may always have targets on their backs unless major changes an in ivory regulation and harsher punishments for being caught come about.