Issues: Illegal hunting and trade

Confiscated elephant tusks in Royal Chitwan National Park, Nepal rel=
Confiscated elephant tusks in Royal Chitwan National Park, Nepal
© WWF-Canon / Mark ATKINSON

Ivory trade continues despite ban

Asian elephants continue to be hunted and killed for their tusks in order to fuel the ivory trade. Here's what's happening.

Asia as a centre for ivory carving
Ivory, from both Asian and African species, has been in much demand. It has been a valued substance for centuries and Asian artists and craftsmen have long been renown for their ability to transform ivory into complex and beautiful objects.

A 1997 TRAFFIC report indicated that, seven years after international trade in ivory was banned, illegal commerce continued in the Far East, with South Korea and Taiwan (China) being major markets.

Besides the demand for ivory, Asian elephants are also hunted for their meat and hide in some regions of Asia.

Asian ivory: back on the market
Most of the illegal ivory appeared to come from African sources, rather than from Asian elephants. However, recent investigations into the ivory trade in India and Myanmar have revealed the re-emergence of Asian ivory in the domestic markets.

Currently the domestic ivory markets in Asia are a bigger threat to wild elephant populations than international trade in ivory.

Only male Asian elephants are tuskers... with dire consequences
However, unlike the case of African elephants, only male Asian elephants carry ivory. Poaching for ivory in Asian elephants has resulted in selective removal of tusked males from many populations across the continent.

Some male Asian elephants do not have tusks, with the proportion of tuskless males in any given Asian elephant population varying from <10 per cent to over > 90 per cent. In some populations where 90 per cent of the males are tuskers (e.g. south India and north-west India), poaching of males has led to a lack of breeding age males in the population.

Selective killing, skewed sex-ratios
This has resulted in females in such population not being able to breed and has led to a significant drop in recruitment of young ones. One example in the Periyar Tiger Reserve in southern India, where the sex ratio is one male is to 120 females, fewer than 30 per cent of the adult females are accompanied by a calf or juvenile under five years of age.

Similarly, the slaughter of tusked bulls elephants in Cambodia for their tusks has resulted in a scenario where the only males caught on camera traps are tuskless males. In contrast, in Rajaji –Corbett National Parks in north-west India, the sex ratio is one male to two females, and more than per cent of adult females are accompanied by calves/juveniles.

Impact of Traditional Chinese medicine
Traditional Chinese medicinal practitioners have for thousands of years prescribed medicines containing derivatives of rhino horns to treat illnesses such as fevers and convulsions and also to prevent strokes and nosebleeds.

Ivory ending up in pills and tablets
Traditional Chinese medicine made from rhino horn is processed into pills, tablets, herbal treatments and tonics and sold worldwide with the main users in China, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan (China), South Korea, Hong Kong and wherever Chinese communities live including North America, Australia and Europe.

Ban on rhino horn use flaunted
Even though the use of rhino horn in traditional medicine is banned in most countries, investigations by TRAFFIC and WWF reveal that use of rhino horn in traditional medicine still persists. While steps are being taken to work with the traditional Chinese medicine community to phase out the use of rhino horns from their work, lack of adequate protection and weak law enforcement in many rhino habitats is leading to loss of rhinos at unacceptable rates.

Viet Nam: Guns and undue influences
In Vietnam, hunting of rhinos has been a part of pre-colonial livelihood security; they were hunted for food mainly. Oral history indicates that mechanisms were in place to ensure that limited numbers of rhinos were being hunted for food.

During colonial times, the value of the horn became recognised by local people through interactions with French people. The simultaneous introduction of fire-arms and the wide-spread availability of high-powered guns during and after the American War has not helped the survival of Javan rhinos in Vietnam.

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