Rise in elephant poaching due to increased demand of ivory products in US market

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Washington, May 6 : A new study has determined that due to the increasing demand for ivory products in rich industrialized nations like the Unites States, there has been an alarming rise in elephant poaching in recent years.

According to a report in the National Geographic News, the study makes the claim based on investigations of thousands of retail outlets in 16 American cities between March and December 2006 and March and May 2007.

The most common types of worked ivory items for sale in the US were netsukes (miniature sculptures), human figurines, and jewelry, most originating from China and Japan.

Esmond Martin, a geographer and wildlife trade investigator involved in the report, said many of the ivory items found in the US have been made after a 1990 ban on the ivory trade.

"Much of this trade is in contravention of both domestic laws and international treaties, and most of the ivory comes from China," said Christine Wolf, a CWI (Care for the Wild International) spokesperson.

The restriction is part of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, an international agreement between governments meant to ensure that cross-border trade in animal and plant specimens doesn't threaten those populations.

What is surprising that the US is a signatory of this international agreement.

The report pointed out loopholes in US laws against ivory trading, as well as faulted authorities for failing to properly enforce what is on the books.

According to the study, the growing demand for ivory products in US has resulted in elephants being slaughtered in record numbers.

Conservationists recently reported, for instance, that seventeen elephants were killed in the past few weeks for their ivory in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Virunga National Park.

"The illegal ivory trade has undergone a major escalation since 2005, and the increasing demand from high-paying industrialized nations is one important cause," said Samuel K. Wasser, director of the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington, Seattle.

In 2006, illegal trade in elephant ivory reached record levels and that elephant poaching rates were higher than at any point since the enactment of the CITES ivory ban.

Some 23,000 elephants were killed for their tusks in 2006, according to that study.

According to Wasser, though China is typically cited as the country that is most driving this demand, the new report identifies the US as the second-largest ivory market in the world, with most of this ivory being illegally imported from China.

"Thus US demand for ivory appears to be indirectly adding to China's demand," he added.

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