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In China, there is a thriving trade for beautiful ornaments made from ivory. Made from the tusks of wild African elephants, China is the biggest importer of ivory in the world. Popular items include bangles, brooches, trinkets and exquisitely-carved hair clips that are hand-made in Eastern and Southern African countries. However, with no possible means to trace the source of the ivory, most buyers assume it comes from elephants that die naturally or from tusks shed naturally.
But in reality, every 15 minutes, an elephant is killed in Africa and annually, 30,000 die as a result of poaching.
At this rate, elephants in the wild could be extinct in 11 years, according to Wild Aid’s campaign to save wild elephants called ‘Last Days of Ivory’.
The incisor teeth or tusks of these slaughtered animals are eventually turned into earrings, pendants and charm bracelets for the buyer.
“After China, the second biggest buyer of illegally imported ivory is the US,” said renowned primatologist, environmentalist, UN Messenger of Peace and activist Dame Jane Goodall. With this being her fourth visit to the UAE, Goodall has officially launched the ‘Roots and Shoots’ programme for the youth in the country on January 20. Speaking to Khaleej Times on the sidelines of the launch, Goodall said the prices of ivory and rhino horns have skyrocketed in recent years, owing to the high demand for these products.
Goodall claimed that almost all of the money that comes from the sale of illegal ivory is used to fund terrorist groups in Africa. Groups like Boko Haram and Al Shabab ruthlessly hunt down the wild pachyderms and run a well-organised mafia to sell the ivory to mostly misinformed buyers in China, US and other countries, he said.
The UAE connect
The UAE is seen as a potential transit point for illegal export and import of ivory. In two years, the number of raw ivory tusks seized in the country has risen by almost 60 per cent.
“The UAE’s geographical positioning and (its) … excellent sea and air connectivity makes it an easy transit port for smugglers to send ivory to other locations from Dubai,” said Elsayed Mohammed, Middle East Regional Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). “About four months ago, 1,000 pieces of raw ivory tusks were seized by the Dubai Customs. This is the fourth bust in recent times.”
In 2013, the Dubai Customs announced the seizure of 259 elephant tusks, which at that time was the biggest bust of contraband ivory in the UAE. The tusks were seized during a routine X-ray inspection of a container shipped from Mombasa, Kenya, to Jebel Ali Port. The container’s manifest claimed it contained wooden furniture, according to the IFAW.
“People must understand that animals too have emotions. They feel pain when hurt, just like how humans do,” Goodall said.
Trade of illegal pets
The good news is that the trade of exotic animals has reduced considerably in the UAE. Domesticating wild animals like cheetahs and lions is a popular trend in the UAE, with cheetahs selling for anything between Dh30,000 to Dh50,000. “It could be the difference in attitudes of the people, or the fact that the government has taken conscious efforts to crack … (the whip) … on the trade. We’ve noticed that … Internet advertisements for the sale of wild animals has reduced drastically. In 2012, there were 8,000 ads for wild animals and in 2014, the number came down to 122,” said Elsayed Mohammed.
But the ideal scenario would be to keep the wild animals in the wild, said both the experts. “There have been cases of chimpanzees being imported to be kept as pets in the Middle East,” said Goodall. “People must understand that it is virtually impossible to domesticate chimpanzees. They are taken from their mothers when they are babies and as they grow older, their temperament becomes more volatile, wherein they become aggressive. When people cannot deal with that, they are thrown into cages or placed in private zoos.”
Goodall has lived with chimpanzees and studied their behaviour in their natural habitat for several years at the Gombe Stream National Park in Zimbabwe, Africa. “The use of chimpanzees in cinema must be stopped as well. They are beaten and trained with electric collars to get them to behave for the scenes. A grinning face of the chimpanzee, as often depicted in movies, is not a face of happiness. That is the look of sheer fear in the animal.”
Roots and Shoots
Roots and Shoots was founded by Goodall in 1991, with the goal of bringing together youth from preschool to university age to work on environmental, conservation and humanitarian issues. The organisation has nearly 100,000 youths across the globe.
In Abu Dhabi, seven pilot schools and two universities have joined the programme. “The programme has changed the lives of so many youngsters. I started it with 12 high school students in Tanzania and now it has become a global movement. There is a curriculum that children can follow and students or school groups have to plan three projects that will restore the ecological balance of their surroundings,” said Goodall.
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