By Elly Pepper
The last few years have seen a number of countries close their ivory markets as a way to help curb the current poaching crisis, which is driving elephants towards extinction. Indeed, the U.S. placed a near-total ban on its ivory market between 2014 and 2016 and China will close its market—the biggest in the world—by the end of this year.
Friday, the United Kingdom—one of the world's largest domestic ivory markets—joined these countries in combating the illegal ivory trade by releasing an impressive proposed ivory ban and requesting public comments.
This is great, much-needed news for elephants, whose populations continue to decline. Indeed, as recognized by the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) last September "countries with domestic ivory markets that contribute to elephant poaching or the illegal ivory trade" should "take all necessary legislative, regulatory and enforcement measures to close [such] markets ... as a matter of urgency."
And, by their very existence, any legal ivory market leads to a parallel illegal market since ivory from recently-killed elephants can be made to look like old ivory, which is legal in many countries, through processes like chipping, staining, and cracking.
The UK has long played a role in the international ivory trade. Indeed, during the colonial era more than a million elephants were killed to feed British demand for everything from ivory ornaments and piano keys to billiard balls and cutlery. Much of that ivory remains in the UK today, fueling the market. Additionally, trade data indicates that the UK is the world's largest exporter of 'legal' ivory, most of which goes to Asian destinations like China and Hong Kong.
The problem is that the UK's ivory rules just aren't strong enough and allow a great deal of abuse. Fortunately, the proposal the government released Friday is robust and would make a huge difference in curbing the country's trade. Specifically, the government's proposal would ban all sales of ivory in the UK, as well as the import and export of ivory to and from the UK, including intra-EU trade to and from the UK. The ban would likely include some narrowly-defined exemptions for musical instruments, items of "significant artistic, cultural and historic value," and items containing a de minimis amount of ivory. Further, under the proposal, museums would continue to be able to buy and display ivory. While the details still need to be worked out to prevent exploitation of these loopholes, overall the proposal is a huge step forwards.
Importantly, the UK's proposal will also send a strong signal of encouragement to China, helping ensure that the ivory ban it finalizes at the end of this year will be strongly enforced. Indeed, with the UK serving as the primary exporter of ivory to China and Hong Kong, weak ivory rules in the UK could derail a Chinese ivory ban. But this proposal will help ensure against that—and will hopefully lead other countries to ban their ivory markets as well.
As a wildlife advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council, Elly Pepper protects threatened and endangered species and their habitats by working to enact federal and state regulations and laws and by fighting back against harmful proposals regarding elephant ivory, the Endangered Species Act, and other issues.
In legal tiger farms across China, some 6,000 caged cats are kept in filthy conditions and will be killed for dubious medicinal uses and as home decor for the country's newly-rich elite. The sordid business is mostly legal, but hides behind carefully-worded agreements and pretensions of conservation. The issue is expected to be addressed at this week's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting in Johannesburg.
Tiger breeding cages at Guilin Tiger Farm in China.Belinda Wright / Wildlife Protection Society of India
It is estimated that 60 percent of China's 1.4 billion people use so-called traditional medicines made from tiger bones, rhinoceros horn, bear gall bladder and other exotic animal parts. As China has grown in recent decades, creating a larger middle class and many newly rich entrepreneurs, demand for tiger parts has grown.
[email protected] Speaks Out Against #Rhino Horn Trade https://t.co/wBuIuaGk7q @WildAid @Virgin @WWF @pamfoundation https://t.co/xNvkSkjS6u— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1452804120.0
China signed on to CITES, but maintains about 200 tiger farms, where tigers are bred to serve this growing market. Claiming that these tiger parts are for domestic consumption, and therefore not subject to the treaty on international trade, China also defends the tiger farms as a captive breeding program that actually helps the species.
However, in 1993, China banned trading in tiger bone, and a 1988 wildlife law that purports to protect endangered species sets forth a policy of "actively domesticating and breeding the species of wildlife."
"What we didn't understand until very recently is that ban in 1993 did not supersede China's wildlife protection law, which was crafted in the 1980s and actually mandates the farming and consumption of tigers and other endangered species," author and wildlife activist Judith Mills told Yale Environment 360 in an interview last year.
Small pens house tigers.Environmental Investigation Agency
Among the luxury products made from these farmed animals is tiger bone wine, which can sell for $257 per 500 ml (about 17 ounces). But almost every part of the tiger is alleged to have some medical use: the brain, whiskers, eyeballs, nose, penis, tail and feet. Tiger skins and whole stuffed tigers are a status symbol in wealthy Chinese homes.
Far from saving the species, tiger farms promote demand for these body parts that makes poaching wild tigers even more lucrative.
"The problem with tiger farming is that it stimulates demand for tiger products, which stimulates poaching of wild tigers because products from wild tigers are considered superior, more prestigious and they're exponentially more valuable," Mills said.
The World Wildlife Federation (WWF) counts the number of tigers in the wild at 3,890.
Historic and current range of tigers in Asia.World Wildlife Federation
A February 2013 report by the Environmental Investigation Agency concludes that "wild Asian cats are being poached to supply the market demand stimulated by China's legal domestic trade in skins of captive-bred tigers at a time when the international community has agreed that demand reduction is essential to save wild tigers."
The report also notes that tiger farming and trade has spread to other Southeast Asia countries including Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Recently, Laos announced its intention to phase out tiger farms.
In July, the Environmental Investigation Agency called on CITES to adopt concrete measures to end tiger farms. Even if adopted, it remains to be seen if China will abide by the regulations or find another loophole. The Guardian reports that a farm in northeast China is cross-breeding tigers with lions, thus creating a "liger" that the Chinese say is not covered by its own 1993 law.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.