OK, another post about the ivory ban. One question that naturally arises is: Why now? I briefly touched on these issues in the article but wanted to go into more detail here.
Poaching is not only an ecological problem but also a security issue, since selling wildlife materials is a way that militant groups such as Boko Haram and Al Shabab fund themselves.
"At its most basic level, this is about exploiting natural resources for large amounts of money," said Craig Hoover, chief of the Wildlife Trade and Conservation branch of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
That means the clock is ticking on several endangered or near-extinct animals. Between 2010 and 2012, 100,000 elephants were poached for the illegal ivory market, according to the Wildlife Service. In 2007, South Africa lost 13 rhinos in one year; in the past year, that number exceeded 1,000, said Mr. Hoover. There are only a few thousand tigers left in the wild.
In nations such as Vietnam and China, rhino horn, tiger bone and black bear gallbladder are believed to cure various illnesses, such as cancer, fever or hangovers, or to improve nail growth. Other animals, such as shark (which, while not endangered, is regulated) and pangolin, are used in cuisine. Elephant ivory is a status symbol, popular in decorations, statues and carvings.
There's no demonstrated medicinal benefit of those materials that has not been synthesized in Western medicine, Mr. Hoover said. The increased demand is the result of savvy marketing in those countries. These days, consumers in those booming economies have more resources to afford expensive wildlife materials.
In addition to banning or regulating these wildlife materials, reducing demand for them is another way to rein in poaching. During the 1980s and 1990s, the U.S. curbed demand for ivory "by essentially making it less cool" and "convincing people that only elephants should wear ivory," Mr. Hoover said. An educational campaign was part of those efforts, as consumers didn't know elephants had to be slaughtered to harvest ivory, said Christina Meister, public affairs specialist for the Wildlife Service. Indeed, that is a taller task for cultures that have used traditional medicine for hundreds or thousands of years.
No one I spoke with in the music community doubted the validity of curbing wildlife trafficking; indeed, Heather Noonan, vice president for advocacy for the League of American Orchestras, said it fully supports those conservation efforts. Musicians argue, however, is that instruments — which contain small amounts of ivory that were, in general, legally harvested long before endangered-species lists and ivory bans — are disconnected from today's black market for elephants and rhinos. Mr. Hoover agreed; the Wildlife Service is trying to strike a balance between its own objectives and those activities that don't pose a threat or contribute to the illegal ivory trade.