Monitoring of elephant poaching and ivory trade in India and Asia

Rapidly diminishing habitat and pressures from human activity has had a dramatic effect on wildlife populations in India over recent years. Not least is the endangered Asian elephant, where it is estimated that there are only about 1,000 remaining male ‘tuskers’ in a population of 25,000 elephants. The rate of poaching has increased to 100 males a year, which, if not checked, would give the species only another ten years before extinction becomes a certainty.

Vivek Menon has been, for the past ten years, at the forefront of the fight against organised wildlife crime and poaching in India. He trained in ecology and environment, first focusing on birds and monkeys, and later going on to work with the rhinoceros and the elephant. Besides being a biologist, he is a prolific writer with 150 published articles including regular columns in national newspapers. He is currently executive director of the Wildlife Trust of India, an honorary Wildlife Warden of New Delhi and the member of four specialist scientific groups with the IUCN. He has founded five different environmental organisations in India.

As a result of recent studies, Vivek Menon has discovered that elephant poaching increased nearly three fold between 1990 and 1996. However, a large number of carcasses go unreported, so the real estimates could be as much as five times the numbers recorded.

When the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) ‘downlisted’ three populations of elephants in Africa in 1997 (this increased to four countries in 2000), it re-started the legal trade in ivory which had been previously banned for ten years. As a result, elephant poaching around the world, including India, increased.

Vivek Menon has found that the new wave of poaching in India includes new methods of killing elephants. He has also been tracking the trade of ivory from India, where it moves through trading blocks in the Middle East before ending up in Japan or China.

The pressure to open up the ivory trade even more is expected to continue. Vivek will continue to monitor the ivory trade routes and flow, illegal poaching activities and the overall effect on the Asian elephant population. This is paramount in order to provide the international community with a true picture of the effect of decisions they take.

Vivek Menon’s work also includes close liaison with the government, providing various agencies with statistics and advising them on laws and plans to combat poaching, as well as their enforcement.

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