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Paula Kahumbu

CEO, WildlifeDirect

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How do we save African elephants from extinction?

African elephants are being slaughtered for their ivory as a surprising consequences of the rise of Asian economies. Symbolic of wealth and prestige, ivory was once only affordable for a few. Now with hundreds of millions of newly rich people in Asia, demand has outstripped supply and elephants are being killed at a rate that will drive them to extinction in less than 15 years.

African governments are unable to stop the poaching - the price of ivory is driving impunity, corruption and is now under control of criminal cartels.

How do we stop this? What will it take to reverse this trend? Do we need to change cultures? Appealing for compassion in China, Thailand, Philippines? Is it about law enforcement?

We need some bright ideas from TEDsters who love African animals and who know how to cause change in Asia

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  • Mar 6 2013: McCrea-Steele said IFAW has advised Google on illicit trading, as well as China's Alibaba Group, which runs the popular e-commerce platform Taobao. She said both were "very responsive" and had taken action to stamp out illicit activities.
    IFAW has also worked with eBay, which it once called "one of the main channels through which trafficking in wildlife and wildlife products are conducted online." The company imposed its own voluntary ban in 2007 after IFAW persuaded them that ivory was indeed being trafficked with the help of their site.
    "They've cleaned up, that's sure," said Adrian Hiel, an IFAW official attending the CITES conference in the Thai capital. "But there are so many ads that come out every day, you have to be vigilant. You have to keep checking."
    Even now, concerned Internet shoppers still allege ivory is being sold on eBay. One called attention to a carving of a rural Asian village scene selling for $1,000 that is labeled as "Fine Chinese Ox Bone." The item is advertised by a seller in Los Angeles with the note, "Ships to: Worldwide."
    Hiel said it can be tough, based on photos alone, to determine whether such products are really elephant tusks. You can always make an educated guess based on where the object is being sold and how much it goes for. But "unless you buy it and examine it, it's hard to tell for sure what's legal and what's not."
    "Our argument is that the onus should be on the seller to prove the legality of what they're selling," Hiel said. "Because law enforcement can't go around ordering stuff of eBay just to test the legality of it."
    Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said that when elephant poaching last reached crisis levels several decades ago, web-based trafficking was not something anybody had to consider.
    Now, "Internet-based crime is an important aspect of control," he said. "It makes it much more difficult, but we have to deal with it."

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