Someone commented yesterday (February 2015):
“Good idea but how are you going to apply this dye to every elephant with tusks. Surely you would have to drug them and it would take forever.”
First, you focus on just the elephants moving through poaching hotspots.
We are pretty good at determining these hotspots. Yes, they are probably lawless, dangerous places, but to defeat poaching, we’re going to have deal with such places. Our current best idea of how to do so is armed conflict: more troops on the ground (Big Life Fdn), more “equipping and training law enforcement teams,” (WWF) and more guns (IFAW).
It makes the task of puzzling out how to stain tusks once every several years almost respectable.
Second, I agree that you can’t knock out elephants to stain their tusks. What I hope is that you and other readers will figure out how we get elephants to eat a treat containing dye that is dropped from a helicopter or land rover. Like you and me, elephants don’t eat every good thing they find on the ground, but somebody among us must be able to cook up something irresistable, no?
This is an excerpt from an article about captive Asian elephants:
“Ingenious attempts to hide medication in fruits, juices, vegetables, and mixtures of sweet flavors or spices have all been attempted. . . . Unfortunately, elephants are notorious for rejecting any food or water that is medicated. They have a very keen sense of smell and taste that can be exceptionally discriminating. . . . We have seen an elephant consume well mixed medicated grain, only to find a large proportion of the medication remaining in an otherwise empty tub. Despite these limitations, a good trainer with ample time can often habituate an elephant to ingest medicated feed.”
“Drug Delivery to Captive Asian Elephants – Treating Goliath”
Ramiro Isaza and Robert P. Hunter Current Drug Delivery, 2004, 1, pp291-298
The thing is: If I can clear $40,000 per butchered elephant and I’m a criminal, I am going to look into elephant poaching. (The average pair of tusks is what? 150 pds. 40% of that is recoverable ivory? I Google ivory at $750 per pound.)
Right now, as I explore at All We do for the Elephants . . . Exactly, our anti-poaching strategies only make poaching more lucrative. They make tusks more difficult to get which just allows those who do get them to charge more. At the same time, our efforts are not enough to prevent living tusks from becoming scarcer and more valuable. Poachers are reducing the supply of living tusks in Africa 3 to 5% a year by killing off 12 to 20,000 elephants. (Allowing for tuskless elephants as well as wastage, that’s about $1,000,000,000 of tusks per year. Maybe, you should check my figures and my math. Then decide if the $50,000,000 or less (a guess I wish could be verified) that we spend on anti-poaching a year could be neutralized by the normal business expenses of a $1 billion industry.)
Fewer elephants, though, do not reduce the cost of current anti-poaching efforts because the efforts are so spread out – from Tanzania to China to the US. These efforts are akin to a shield albeit a gappy and jury-rigged one. Our global-sized shield annual maintenance is about the same whether there’s 500,000 or 100,000 elephants to protect.
A staining program brings more of your resources scattered worldwide to bear on shielding the living elephants one herd at a time. If the dye can render stained tusks worthless for several years, then during that time, those tusks can’t earn anybody a dime (except the locals doing the staining) and the supply of poachable tusks is reduced without any killing. The price of ivory will still rise with the reduced supply, but the profits will fall because the cost of finding the unstained tusks will rise much faster. The unstained elephants will be fewer and fewer with more and more resources freed up to protect them.
I’m not trying to make staining sound simple-minded or easy, just conceiveable.