Yahoo Canada ran a “Daily Brew” article a few days ago about staining tusks to stop poaching. The expert quoted, Anne Lambert of the Internat’l Conservation Fund of Canada, says, “Darting and applying dye to elephants would involve a huge cost and stress and risk to elephants.”
I agree with this.
Ms Lambert dismisses the idea of staining tusks as thus “impractical to impossible.”
That I disagree with.
The objection is that you can’t knock out the elephants and paint their tusks.
The challenge then is how to deliver the dye into their system in something they’ll eat or maybe in something off-the-wall like a skin patch (like a nicotine patch) that has been plunked onto the elephant’s flank by flatheaded arrow spread with a bit of 3M’s finest adhesive. Without tranquilizers and with no stress. No impractical and expensive teams of elephant handlers.
You’ll probably need several doses of dye to stain the tusks fully, and elephants are suspicious eaters, so it’s an ornery problem. Still, doesn’t it seem manageable enough to look into? (Laugh, but Nestles makes pet food. I’d ask them for suggestions – and funding. Or Clairol. You think that they’ve never thought about the market potential of hair dye in a pill?)
If you have suggestions on how to proceed, please comment. If this is a non-starter, tell me why.
Why stain tusks to fight poaching?
I go into this at All We Do for the Elephants . . . Exactly, but let’s take the example of Tanzania. Poaching there has been intractable. 65,000 or 60% of their elephants were killed in 5 years. The government is thought to be complicit in poaching and ivory smuggling. (Officially, the government takes a “Who? Us?” line. To them, the loss of 12,000 elephants in one reserve is “the greatest wildlife mystery ever.”)
Staining tusks might be a very good strategy for such a situation. A putative staining (and re-staining) program would only require the government’s cooperation for limited if intense and hopefully highly publicized periods every few years. This might be more viable than relying on rogue rangers who may actually be doing the poaching or honest rangers who may be constrained from doing their jobs by corrupt superiors in league with poachers.
Last year (2014), for the first time, during such a highly publicized moment of government cooperation, a Tanzanian elephant survey was done by outside organizations led by the Frankfurt Zoo. They found that Tanzania’s elephant population fell 60% from 110,000 to 45,000 in 5 years. The government did suppress the report for several months, but only, they claimed, because they were so flabbergasted by the results. “We recalculated about 1,000 times because we didn’t believe what we were seeing.”
They finally released the report in June 2015 by which time it could dismissed as old news. Indeed, the government asserted that in the half year since the survey was finished in 2014, poaching had decreased. “The worst is over.” If this is indeed so, it is not clear why. Is it because the government has changed its policies or changed its ways? Or more likely, the previous scale of poaching can’t be sustained with so many fewer elephants?
So, does developing a transdermal dye patch delivered by archer suddenly sound like a constructive use of time and money? If not, the post below has more on Tanzanian poaching and the unabashed and enthusiastic support that two anti-poaching NGOs have given the government since the survey’s release.
Back to Ms Lambert, the Canadian wildlife expert. Her conclusion about staining: “And even if achievable on a small, enclosed population, poaching pressure would just be diverted elsewhere.” The thing is, she is describing what already happens with any anti-poaching strategy (or any crime fighting strategy, for that matter.) Put more guns and – uncompromised – rangers in one area, and the poachers will move elsewhere.
Ms. Lambert must know that poachers will also move elsewhere when all the elephants in an area are dead.
A “small, enclosed population” pretty well describes the decimated herd just before the last of the members are killed off. Maybe saving such populations by making their tusks pink shouldn’t be dismissed so blithely. Hell, such vulnerable, dwindling populations may be the norm one day across Africa as they already are in Central and Western Africa. Probably in Tanzania now, too.
To Ms Lambert, “the idea” of staining tusks “is impractical to impossible on a field-level scale because of the sheer logistics and cost to implement.”
Instead, “the best way to reduce elephant poaching,” the reporter sums up Ms Lambert’s thinking, “is to reduce demand for ivory thanks to public awareness, government crackdowns and greater enforcement.”
I don’t know, but I’ve been told that the “sheer logistics and cost to implement” those all-encompassing solutions did not prevent 100,000 African elephants from being killed in 3 years.
photo of tranquilized elephant in Kenya is by Sayyid Azim for AP. I found the original in an NBC news story from 2005. The Photoshop’g is mine.
The doum eating elephant photo is difficult to source. Google image search gives http://www.segram.com/tag/Selous This site is an endless collection of images. I apologize to the photographer for the lack of credit. If the fruit has been reddened in Photoshop, it wasn’t by me.
With all the mention of Photoshop, maybe Adobe might kick in some dough for research. “From Reality to PhotoShop to More Elephants.”
Lazaro Nyalandu photo is from his site www.lazaronyalandu.org according to Google. I couldn’t find it there though.