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Bills to Rein in U.S. Ivory Trade Have Mixed Results

As author and Nat Geo contributor Laurel Neme writes this week, even sensemaking legislation aimed at saving imperiled wildlife by restricting the elephant ivory and rhino horn trade in the United States can fall victim to political reality.

Following successful efforts last year to effectively ban ivory and rhino horn commercial sales in New York and New Jersey — as well as new federal rules tightening the ivory trade — lawmakers across the country have proposed similar legislation for their respective states. Some bills are moving through the legislative process; others have been diluted or effectively killed, in part by well-funded opposition from the gun lobby.

States such as California are seeking to close loopholes to existing ivory laws that have made it impossible to effectively enforce what’s already on the books.

Under current California law, ivory imported into the state prior to 1977 can be sold legally. But criminals have long exploited the legal market to launder illegal ivory from poached elephants. According to a January report by the National Resources Defense Council, as much as 90% of ivory found in Los Angeles and San Francisco markets was illegal.

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NYT Profiles Pangolin Conservation Efforts

A 3-year-old female pangolin ambling through the underbrush at a Cambodian wildlife rescue center, and seemingly unaware that she's missing two feet lost to a poacher's snare, provides the opening scene to an excellent profile on this amazing animal by New York Times science writer Erica Goode.

Also known as “scaly anteaters,” pangolins are small mammals primarily distinguished by hard, overlapping scales made of keratin, the same protein that constitutes human hair and fingernails. Found in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, pangolins are solitary animals that use their extraordinarily long tongues to probe for ants and termites in mounds and decaying logs. 

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Manta Rays: Curious and Vulnerable Giants of the Sea

"In all my years of filming and interacting with manta rays, I have never witnessed such an extraordinary interaction between a manta ray and a swimmer. The power and charisma of this giant manta was truly humbling!" — Shawn Heinrichs, WildAid

This month, WildAid's Shawn Heinrichs and Josh Stewart of Manta Trust conducted a research and filming expedition to Peru, working closely with our partner Planeta Océano with support from Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. Peru and Ecuador waters are home to one of the most significant populations Oceanic mantas in the eastern Pacific. Both Peru and Ecuador are parties to Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) that now lists both manta and mobula rays for protection. Whereas Ecuador has implemented national regulations protecting mantas and mobulas, just south of their border, Peru has yet to adopt similar protections.

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CITES: Elephant Poaching Levels Remain Unsustainable

Elephant poaching levels in Africa continued to outpace natural birth rates for the species in 2014, according to a new report released Monday by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES.

CITES’ Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants program estimates that the poaching rate in 2014 remained virtually unchanged compared with 2013 numbers.

While the current level is slightly less than the peak in 2011, elephant populations remain in decline.

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Uncharted Territory in Rhino Conservation

WildAid South Africa staffer Adam Welz recently penned an authoritative op-ed for Ensia the challenges in saving Africa's rhinos. As detailed often on this blog, poaching in South Africa has reached alarming levels: 1,215 rhinos were killed in the country last year, compared with 448 in 2011 and 83 in 2008. 

Welz writes:

The high-profile plight of [rhinos] has brought forth a bewildering array of proposed solutions, many of which trigger serious ethical dilemmas, risk unintended and troubling consequences or rely on unproven technology. We’re charging headlong into an era in which new technology may allow us to save species once considered doomed, but also in which threats come in previously unimaginable forms that mainstream wildlife protectors cannot handle. ...

... The steps being taken to save southern white rhinos from the relentless onslaught of ever more organized poachers and traffickers — who sell their horns for extraordinary sums in Asia to consumers who believe that rhino horn cures cancer and other ailments and businesspeople seeking status symbols — are no less fraught with uncertainty.

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