Zoo calls for new ivory laws, anti-poaching efforts

Oregon Zoo seeks community help to protect elephants, combat illegal trade

The Oregon Zoo has ramped up efforts to combat the illegal ivory trade by partnering with The Wildlife Conservation Society on the recently launched 96 Elephants campaign.

Named for the number of elephants poached daily in 2012, the campaign aims to end the sale of ivory in the United States, which conservationists believe is a key step in decreasing demand for the trade that kills elephants for their tusks. The zoo is urging community members to sign an online petition asking Congress to enact a moratorium on domestic ivory sales.

In December, the Oregon Zoo Foundation provided $10,000 for the 96 Elephants campaign, which will support park guards, intelligence networks, and government operations in protected areas for elephants throughout the Congo Basin and East Africa, among other projects.

"Many people don't realize that ivory is still legally sold in the U.S.," said Nadja Wielebnowski, Oregon Zoo conservation and research manager. "Confusing regulations are also enabling a thriving black market for ivory in the U.S., which helps to drive the illegal killing of elephants. By avoiding ivory and openly stating their opposition to the ivory trade, Americans can tell the world that an elephant's life is more valuable than a trinket."

Operated by international crime syndicates, the illegal ivory trade is now at its highest point since 1989. Most ivory is used to carve ornamental objects, jewelry and trinkets.

Over the past months, both the U.S. and China — the world's two largest markets for wildlife products — publicly destroyed a combined total of more than 12 tons of illegal ivory to underscore those governments' commitment to combatting wildlife crime.

Plans are in the works to address the zoo's own stockpile of ivory — currently stored in a high-security facility — donated over the years by community members who didn't want or know how to dispose of it.

"Our community has demonstrated a profound compassion for elephants," said Kim Smith, zoo director. "The Wildlife Conservation Society's 96 elephants campaign gives us another tool for ending the trade that fuels the slaughter of these animals, and we encourage our community to join the fight."

For the past 15 years, the zoo has worked to protect Asian and African elephants throughout their range by supporting field research and projects to mitigate human-elephant conflict through the International Elephant Foundation.

This year's projects include purchasing field equipment for anti-poaching rangers in Kenya, training villagers to patrol and monitor for elephants in Myanmar, and micro-chipping Laotian elephants to reduce illegal capture.

Photos: Julie Larsen maher/ Wildlife Conservation Society