Sue Orloff | How your smartphone can tackle illegal ivory supply

Sue Orloff | How your smartphone can tackle illegal ivory supply

Earlier this month, the UK announced that from 2019 it will be illegal to buy and sell ivory – regardless of its age. While the news has been welcomed by conservationists, the ban will likely mean that ivory sales will go underground, much as it has in the US.

In the US, a near-total ban on commercial trade in African elephant ivory was implemented in July 2016.  Yet ivory continues to be sold.

It is estimated that the international trade in illegal ivory is worth £17 billion a year.

Determined to stamp it out, Sue Orloff, a retired wildlife biologist, created a free mobile app which allows the general public to anonymously report ivory sales.  This is one of several activities her non-profit, Biologists without Borders, pursues in support of African wildlife conservation.

“A lot of people are attacking the acquisition end but I’ am tackling a demand side,” she told ANFPE.

The app – The Eye of the Elephant – allows users to take a picture of the ivory piece and report the address. Sue then takes this information and submits the reports to wildlife authorities.

“The US is still the second in the world for selling ivory, behind only China. And, so far, we have submitted hundreds of reports around the country. These are currently being investigated and there has already been a bust in New York – the first that came from our efforts,” Sue said.

Recently Biologists Without Borders partnered with the National Whistleblowers Center and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  The DHS is interested because the profits from the ivory trade often go toward funding terrorist organization worldwide.

“There are people around the country looking for stores selling ivory – including me. But it is hard, especially in California, where we have banned it…Now, they all put their ivory in the backrooms and are looking for other outlets – one of them is the internet,” she explained.

Consequently, Sue spends much of her spare time combing the internet and auction houses.  Her next step, is to expand her reach into England.

“There are a lot of auction houses selling ivory from England and I would love to hire someone from England to go through the auction houses and internet, list them and submit them to the appropriate agencies,” she said.

“I am chief, cook and bottle washer – I would love to get an assistant eventually to help out. Just searching the internet for the ivory selling is almost a full-time job,” she added.

Change mindsets

The only way to truly combat the sale of ivory, however, is to make it unattractive. In many countries – particularly China – its high value makes it a status symbol. It is often purchased by those who want to show-off their wealth to impress their peers.

This is unlikely to change in the near-future, so Sue hopes that, through education, people will become ashamed and embarrassed to be displaying ivory.

“It is going to be a while until a country like China stops being interested. But you would think the US and UK – both being animal-loving countries –  could change. If people from the UK and US really knew how that ivory came to be on their shelf, I do not think they would buy it. So, it is just a matter of getting the word out,” she said.

Around 20,000 African elephants are poached each year for their ivory, which has completely whipped-out elephant populations in countries such as Ghana, Nigeria and the Ivory Cost over the past 12 years. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) currently lists the African elephant status as ‘vulnerable’.

“There is a lot of ignorance and denial. They [consumers] see a beautiful piece – and some are just wonderful and truly art – and they forget about the elephant. Some people do not even know they kill the elephant to get it – there is that level of ignorance that we need to change,” she added

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Kathleen Retourne

Having worked for more than a decade as a financial journalist in the city of London, Kathleen wanted to do something more with her passion for conservation. So, she quit her job, sold her house and underwent a six-month conservation internship in South Africa. She followed this with a month in Zimbabwe were she focused on human wildlife conflict. Having well and truly been bitten by the African bug, in December 2017 she moved to Zambia where she now manages volunteer projects. Since June 2017 she has interviewed many people in the industry for and then A Note from Planet Earth. She wants her interviews and writing to inspire others to join the fight for conservation.

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