Monday 6th January 2014
Green and shiny, but can it crush ivory?
Let’s start with the China ivory “crush”. That took place today (6th January) and was enthusiastically received by many. But was it real? Look at the “machine” used to “crush” the ivory (above). Looks like a wood shredder to me.
Ivory is very dense. And very hard. On the universal Moh’s scale of hardness, ivory ranks as hard as copper. You cannot burn ivory without a very, very intense flame, and you cannot crush ivory very easily as the Philippines authorities found out. The USA ivory crush took a commercial rock crusher about the size of a house.
The Chinese ivory “crushing” machines were actually belt driven (the housing on the left in the photo above) rotating blade shredders. Put something as hard and dense as ivory in there and the machine would give up faster than you can say “fake”. Why then the massive belief?
Let’s back up a bit and consider the Kenya ivory “burn” that made world headlines in 1989. Twelve tons of ivory were apparently incinerated in a massive bonfire and reduced to ashes after some hours. Experiments conducted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service said it could not be so. That agency estimated that a ton of ivory would take a month to be destroyed fully.
So what was actually burned in the Kenya fire? Perhaps it does not matter as the message went out and a worldwide ivory sale ban was imposed for about ten years. So was it actually important that China staged a PR event versus actually destroying ivory? The “crushing” did send a message that China might be getting a bit serious about the illegal ivory trade.
As with Kenya, destroying the real thing might not be that palatable but … the statements flowed.
Second on the list to talk about is the “grey trade” in illegal wildlife products.
You will know that we have long been mentioning this aspect of illegal wildlife trading. We have mentioned before that antique traders need some serious investigating for the products placed on auction. Are they antiques or new ivory? It is a major loophole, yet there are good ways of aging ivory via radiometric means available today.
But what seems to be happening is that the taxidermists are also getting involved in the illegal trade. Taxidermists hold auctions from time to time, and these involve a diversity of products. Most eagerly bid for are rhino and elephant trophies. Are they also antiques? Most probably not.
We have long suspected that a number of trophy hunters worldwide are now selling their trophies (ivory, rhino horn) to take advantage of the huge gains that can be made. Indeed, “pseudo-hunting” of rhinos very likely still takes place in South Africa these days – a hunt might cost tens of thousands of dollars but the horn is worth hundreds of thousands. Get a local taxidermist involved and realize big profits for sales to Asia. CITES says you are not allowed to sell hunting trophies, but that’s like saying you are not allowed to exceed speed limits. Widely ignored.
Much more to be done to actually crush ivory and crush widespread illegal trading.
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Posted by Chris Macsween at 18:06
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