National Geographic : 2012 Oct
in ivory-tra cking countries, complicating Traf- c's ability to render independent judgments. Tra c based its new ivory-seizures monitoring program, the Elephant Trade Information Sys- tem ( ), in Africa's leading pro-ivory-trade country, Zimbabwe. From the beginning, Tra c boasted that its database extended back to the ivory ban, but countries were not asked to report ivory seizures to until . For a decade its data came from random Tra c surveys, and it had scant data on seizures by key countries, such as Japan ( cases in a decade), ailand ( cases), the Philippines ( cases), and China ( cases). Even a er was up and running, many governments rarely bothered to report their seizures, so when it was time to judge the Japan experiment, Tra c's database was heavy on cases from the U.S. and European Union (more than percent) and light on cases from where it mattered: Asia (less than percent). had no good baseline to judge the e ects of the Japan sale. might have taken a holistic approach to the Japan experiment, combining reports of international NGOs, whose undercover in- vestigators found an increase in illegal ivory trade a er the Japan sale, with data from Traf- c, whose statistics did not show a de nite correlation between the Japan sale and seizures. It might have recognized the limitations of ---whose core metric, seizures, is, a er all, controlled by the countries being evaluated. Since also had problems calculating how much elephant poaching was going on, it might have declared the Japan experiment inconclu- sive, or even a failure. A failure is what China considered it. In a report China warned that a main reason for China's growing ivory-smuggling problem was the Japan experiment: "Many Chinese people misunderstand the decision and believe that the international trade in ivory has been resumed." Chinese consumers thought it was OK to buy ivory again. ignored China's warning and placed its faith entirely in the statistics. " e data we have from is that there is no correlation between decisions made at and the ille- gal trade," Willem Wijnstekers, secretary- general, would later assert in anticipation of more -approved ivory sales. Tom Millik- en, director of , would likewise suggest that the Japan sale had worked: "It is encouraging to note that the illicit trade in ivory progressively declined over the next ve years." But Milliken didn't know what the illicit trade had done; what he knew was his seizure statistics. Nevertheless a judgment was made, and the future of the African elephant may forever be clouded by the moment when , lacking the data to evalu- ate the impact of its rst ivory sale, endorsed a second. By China had forgotten its concerns and petitioned to buy ivory. In March sent a team of three people, including Milliken, to China for ve days to evaluate its ivory-control system. e team returned "more than satis ed" and predicted that China's system could "eradicate, or at least signi cantly reduce, illicit trade." ey also noted, however, that two successive reports had found that China was the single most important reason the illegal ivory trade was increasing. e secretariat therefore refused China's request to buy ivory. But could be manipulated. It scored countries not only on ivory seizures weight but also on law enforcement. It was possible to game the system by reporting lots of small seizure cases, such as a tourist wearing IN 1997 ZIMBABWE'S PRESIDENT DECLARED THAT ELEPHANTS MUST PAY FOR THEIR ROOM AND BOARD WITH THEIR IVORY.