All posts by besdrongos

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

SPOILER WARNING. This movie review WILL contain spoilers regarding the film. If you have not watched it and do not want to be spoiled, please click away from this post. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

If you had the opportunity to opportunity to destroy the world in order to heal the Earth from all the damage that humans have caused, would you do it?

This was the central issue that Godzilla: King of the Monsters revolved around. Directed by Michael Dougherty, the third instalment of the MonsterVerse was released in May 2019 and was met with mixed reviews.

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Poster of Godzilla: King of the Monsters. (Source: Warner Bros. Pictures via Dread Central)

As a sequel to the previous Godzilla movie, this story picks up five years after the happenings in San Francisco. The movie starts off with the birth of a larval Mothra (a moth monster) and the kidnapping of paleobiologist Dr. Emma Russell and her daughter Madison by an eco-terrorist organisation. This organisation aims to release the many monsters (now called Titans) around the world through the use of the ORCA, a system that emits frequencies to change the behaviour of the Titans so that they will destroy the world. They are doing this in hopes of creating a better future where the Earth is “healed” from the anthropogenic destruction of the environment. The organisation believed that the appearance of Titans was the Earth’s way of naturally repairing itself. As it turns out, Emma was the one who masterminded this plan and sought the help of the eco-terrorist organisation. MONARCH, an organisation which covertly handles the Titans, together with the military were tasked to stop the organisation from doing so. However, they failed to prevent this from happening.

Many dormant Titans were awakened, including the likes of Ghidora (Monster Zero), a three-headed alien dragon which seeks to craft Earth to its liking, and Rodan, a fiery giant Pteranodon. The Titans caused massive destruction in many countries around the world, leading Emma to think that the destruction was much worse than what humans would do to the Earth, thus regretting her actions. MONARCH pins their hopes on Godzilla to stop Ghidora from controlling the other Titans and save the world. Godzilla eventually succeed and earns the title of the “alpha” from the other Titans.

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Fight scene between Godzilla and Ghidora (Source: Warner Bros. Pictures via San Antonio Express-News)

If you love movies about giant monsters/kaiju fighting or if you are just a big fan of the Godzilla series, this will be the right movie for you. The movie features beautifully crafted battle scenes between Godzilla and Ghidora which were especially jaw-dropping! Furthermore, the polished CGI of the majestic monsters will leave one in awe after watching the film. The film carefully pays tributes to its predecessors by having the designs and sound effects of the monsters stay close to their roots.

Every movie is not without its flaws, and this one in particular lacks in character development. The film focuses more on the action of fight sequences rather than the main cast, causing many cliché and awkwardly funny conversations to occur. However, if you are watching the film all for the action scenes, this flaw will not be of much concern to you.

The eco-terrorism that this film focuses on provides a social commentary of such occurrences. Eco-terrorism is the use of violence to further an environmental cause. While the one seen in this film talks about the destruction of the world, real-life examples are of a much smaller scale. An example would be the Niger Delta Avengers who seek to topple the oil industry in Nigeria through the destruction of pipelines owned by oil companies. They are motivated by the pollution of the Niger Delta which  affects people’s livelihoods.(https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2016/07/01/who-are-the-niger-delta-avengers)

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Niger Delta Avengers. (Source: Mint News Press)

Now, eco-terrorism poses an ethical question: is the use of violence justified when trying to further a great cause? Even though I am an avid lover of the environment, I feel that any acts of violence should be condemned even though they may be for a great cause. In recent months, the Extinction Rebellion (XR) (https://rebellion.earth/) has become synonymous with the fight against climate change. Some may consider their actions as overboard (read this to see what they did recently! https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/irelands-changing-climate/extinction-rebellion-protesters-brave-the-rain-in-shorts-and-swimwear-to-highlight-leos-fantasy-island-38658962.html) while others see their actions as necessary. The XR operates using non-violent civil disobedience and its actions are hard to be considered as eco-terrorism. However, its actions have brought about chaos and inconvenience through the blocking of roads and the gluing of supporters’ bodies to vehicles. These protests could potentially be met with a backlash of governments which may increase anti-protest legislation. My personal take on this would be that such issues should be discussed in a civilised manner at the institutional level if changes are to occur. Diplomacy should be the way to go when targeting environmental issues.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments section!

Written by: Wei Qiang

What would happen if everyone in Singapore disappears?

Have you ever wondered what would happen to the world if every human were to disappear? Perhaps you would’ve thought that since climate change is due to humans, the climate would reverse back to pre-humanity conditions, but this will take a long time (around 100,000 years actually). So what are some immediate effects, especially on our little island? Let’s take look!

Dangerous Yams?!

Do you know that NParks conducts frequent trimming of weeds in Singapore’s reserves? This ensures that native plants are not smothered by these invasive species and maintains the ecosystem balance in our reserves. An example of an invasive species is the Dioscorea sansibarensis, or Zanzibar yam.

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All of these are poisonous!

It is a climber which is native to Africa. What makes it so dangerous to its environment is that essentially, the entire plant is toxic. The “yam” part of the plant is often harvested for use in making hunting poison (or even poison for suicide or homicides)! As an invasive species, the Dioscorea has been recorded to overwhelm canopies with its leaves, preventing plants below its leaves from photosynthesising. Wildlife might consume parts of the plant and risk poisoning themselves too. Many areas suffering from this plant’s overgrowth have failed to recover naturally 😦

Imagine if there are no humans around to eradicate these invasive species in our reserves – many of our native species will be out-competed! If keystone plants and primary forests are affected, it might cause a detrimental impact in larger scales.

There are monkeys jumping on the bed!

Ever seen these large banners informing park-goers to refrain from feeding the monkeys?

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The reason for this is to prevent these macaques, or wildlife in general, to be dependent on humans for food. Unfortunately, most macaques in Singapore are already used to getting scraps of human food and might even attack people in hopes of getting something to eat. In fact, we always warn our participants who go on our tours to keep any plastic bags they have in their bags as these macaques have associated plastic bags with food!

Without humans, there isn’t much to stop these macaques from invading the urban areas for food and territory. Thus, if everyone were to vanish, human-dependent wildlife will definitely be the first to expand into our homes in search for new habitats and food.

Of course, it is very unlikely for us to disappear in a snap. However, it is interesting to think about what the world would’ve looked like or behaved without anthropogenic interruptions. What are some situations you think might arise from the sudden disappearance of humans? Feel free to share them in the comments below!

Written by: Hui Yi

The Five Dollar Tree

Hey there!

Do you have a five-dollar bill? If you do, have you taken a close look at the design of the bill? If you take a closer look, you’ll notice a large tree in the background of the bill but have you wondered what that tree was?

Well, you might’ve guessed based on the title of this post that it is the Tembusu tree!

The Tembusu tree (Fragraea fragrans) is an evergreen tree from the family Gentianaceae that can be found in Singapore. In fact, the Tembusu tree featured in the five-dollar bill is found at Botanic Gardens, where it is deemed by NParks as a Heritage Tree.

Fragraea frangans. Its name resembles the word ‘Fragrance” doesn’t it? Well, that’s because frangans means fragrance in Latin and the Tembusu tree’s name arose from the sweet smell that its flowers give off.

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Source

The most distinctive feature about the Tembusu tree is its deeply fissured bark. When I was first introduced to the Tembusu tree, the guides even told me that the Tembusu tree looks “out of place” in Singapore because of its thick bark that resembles insulation (which is odd for a tree native to South East Asia, where temperatures are almost hot all year round).

When you come across older trees, you might notice a distinctive branching pattern in the Tembusu tree. With sufficient space, the branches of the Tembusu tree will grow out horizontally before abruptly growing vertically again, creating a sharp bend in its perpendicular branching pattern that is a signature of the Tembusu tree.

The Tembusu tree’s flowers start out white and mature into a yellow hue and give off a strong, sweet scent during the morning and evenings. Its fruits, when ripe, are round berries that are contain lots of seeds which provide food for many different species.

The wood of the Tembusu tree is hard and durable, making it commonly used for building houses, bridges, rafters and chopping boards amongst other things in the past. That being said, perhaps let’s spare the 150-year-old Tembusu tree in Botanic Gardens, shall we?

Written by: Willis

The Batman of Our Forests: The Malayan Colugo

What is it: Huh? Colugo? Simi lai eh?? (translation: what on earth is that?). Well, given its elusive nature and well camouflaged body, it is not surprising that these creatures are not commonly spotted by visitors to our nature parks. Colugos are arboreal (meaning tree dwelling) gliding creatures belonging to the order dermoptera and family cynocephalidae, of which there are 2 extant and 2 extinct species [1]. The species we have in Singapore is the Malayan Colugo or, if you are feeling particularly intellectual, you can tell your friends that you have seen a Galeopterus variegates!

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Cute colugo!

How does it look like: Given that a picture  paints a thousand words, let’s look at a picture of one. We can see that the Malayan colugo has fur that is mottled grey (2) or brown that is sometimes tinged with green. It is this abstract pattern that allows it to blend in so well with the canopy, making it difficult to spot.

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Picture from pintrest.com

Additionally, it has two large, forward facing eyes bestowing it with fantastic binocular vision [1]. This could be what allows it to judge distances accurately when gliding from tree to tree. Complete with its small cupped ears, its face is certainly one that is very cute indeed! However, its party trick are its huge membranes (scientifically known as patagium) that  extend from limb to limb, even in between its digits in order to give it as large a surface area as possible [1]. Just like Batman’s cape, these membranes allow it to glide amongst the canopy, hence giving rise to its other common name, which is the flying lemur. Here’s a picture of its pretty insane looking patagium in action!

What does it eat: The diet of the Malayan Colugo consists mainly of leaves, flowers and young shoots along with some insects [3]. It even consumes durian flowers which might not seem like good news for those durian lovers out there! However, it also performs crucial ecological functions such as seed dispersal [1] so it’s a pretty important member of the forest as well!

Where can you find it: The Malayan Colugo is mainly found in nature reserves such as the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) as well as Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (BTNR). Outside of nature reserves, parks such as Bukit Batok park also harbour some populations [4]. I have also personally seen a few at Hindhede nature park (which is next to the BTNR) as well as on trees growing next to the golf courses of the Singapore Island Country Club.

Other interesting trivia: Did you know that the Malayan Colugo can glide up to 100m [3] while losing only 10m in elevation? Also, having lived in trees all its life, you might think that the colugo would be an adept climber but it is far from it! It uses a clumsy hopping motion [3] to move up and down trees which is not exactly the most elegant method of locomotion. Lastly, the colugo rarely ever ventures to the ground, not even to defecate! Here’s a picture of it defecating from a tree!

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Picture from curioussengi.wordpress.com

As you can see, it has to lift its tail and wrap the membrane over its body just to take a poop. Looks really weird doesn’t it! Attached below is a fascinating video on how the colugo hops up trees and glides. Enjoy!

Well, that’s all from me today. I hope that this post has given you folks a better understanding of the colugo, which is just one of the many interesting creatures inhabiting our forests. Until next time!

Written by: Noel

References:

  1. https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Colugo
  2. https://www.ecologyasia.com/verts/mammals/colugo.htm
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunda_flying_lemur
  4. https://www.nparks.gov.sg/florafaunaweb/fauna/4/7/478

Thoughts on the National Day Rally

“We should treat climate change defences like we treat the SAF – with utmost seriousness.”

On the 18th of August, 2019, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivered his National Day Rally speech, addressing, among other issues, climate change and Singapore’s plan to meet the coming challenges. The title of my blog is a quote from his speech, which I took the liberty of making a minor edit that reflects my personal view. In this post, I’ll be picking out and summarising what I feel are the most important parts of the rally (that pertain to climate change), and giving some of my comments along the way. I understand that the measures listed out during the NDR are not comprehensive, and I must mention that my opinions are greatly summarised as well. While there are too many aspects of climate change to cover in this article, hopefully I’ll be able to give you an additional perspective!

What is climate change?

PM Lee began with a summary on the concept of climate change. He mentioned the greenhouse effect of rising CO2 levels – due to the effect of these greenhouse gases, we have already seen an increase in global average temperatures of 1°C and he even emphasised the gravity of this seemingly small increase. He later went on to list some of the issues Singapore will face: food shortages, diseases, extreme weather. Amongst the problems listed, he singled out the issue that he felt Singapore is the most vulnerable to: sea level rise. He then goes on to mention Singapore’s three-pronged approach to tackling climate change: Understanding, Mitigation and Adaptation.

Understanding Climate Change

Make no mistake, the effects of climate change are already being felt right now, but the scary part is what comes in the next few decades. These effects are difficult to predict, given the complexity and unpredictability of the world’s atmosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere. PM Lee introduced us to the Centre for Climate Research Singapore which was set up in 2013 for research on climate science, to better understand the effects of climate change in the context of Singapore.

While having scientific basis behind policy-making is paramount, it is just as important for Singaporeans to be educated on climate change. An addition or integration of environmental studies into the formal education system would increase the literacy of Singaporeans towards key ideas like sustainability and stewardship. This would prepare the future generation for tackling problems like climate change and biodiversity loss while working towards a sustainable future.

Mitigating Climate Change

PM Lee mentioned Singapore’s commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement, and mentioned one of the steps the government has taken to limit our CO2 emissions is through a carbon tax. At $5 per tonne of CO2 emitted, however, could this tax be a bit too low? Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli explained that this tax is a nudge to businesses to begin improving efficiency, and that taxes will be increased with certainty, just over a longer time frame. Still, The World Bank estimates that to keep warming to within 2°C above pre-industrial levels, we would need a carbon price of US$40-80/tonne of CO2 by 2020 and US$50-100/tonne of CO2 by 2030. So is Singapore doing enough to persuade businesses to shift to greener technology?

Furthermore, PM Lee mentioned that the aim was to cap Singapore’s emissions by 2030. However, the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C explicitly states that to keep temperatures within 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the world would have to peak our carbon emissions in 2020 and become carbon neutral by 2050. Is Singapore setting too lenient a goal?

These are just a couple of signs that Singapore isn’t taking its mitigation measures seriously enough, and this sentiment was echoed by the thousands of Singaporeans that attended the Climate Rally a few weeks ago. PM Lee goes on to say: “Although Singapore may not be able to stop climate change by ourselves, we can contribute to solutions, and we must do our fair share. Then we can be credible asking others to reduce their emissions too, and work towards a global solution to climate change.” Are we doing our fair share?

Adapting to Climate Change

PM Lee focuses solely on sea level rise. The grand plan is to build polders, inspired by the Netherlands. Polders are pockets of land reclaimed from the sea. Seawalls are first built around an area, and the area is pumped dry. PM Lee explained that these measures would likely be necessary for our eastern coastline, which is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels.

These polders increase our land area while at the same time, keeping the sea out. They could even potentially be used to harness tidal energy. The drawbacks would be the cost of building them, which is estimated to be more than 100 billion dollars. Additionally, there are the costs of maintaining these polders as water has to be constantly pumped out. Constructing these polders may also be destructive to the marine ecosystem around the eastern shoreline. There is also another problem.

Let me introduce you to a graph.

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Transient sea-level rise versus committed sea-level rise. (Hardy & Nuse, 2016)

Hank Green explained this graph well in his Youtube Video: “This is the scariest graph I’ve ever seen”. In a nutshell, while sea level rise by 2100 may be about 1m as we have planned for in our adaptation measures, the sea level rise that we subscribe to due to the additional heat in our atmosphere is far greater. If we do nothing about our emissions, sea levels could rise as much as 6 meters in the future. So how high are we going to keep building our sea walls?

While sea level rise is an issue that will affect Singapore significantly, other issues posed by a warming climate are just as serious. We import over 90% of our food, and climate change may soon render agriculture more difficult in many places. We may face a huge problem with food security. Singapore is also a hot and humid tropical country, which means we are especially vulnerable to fatal heat waves. All these problems will have to be addressed in the coming decades, perhaps even sooner than our rising sea levels.

Conclusion

While the measures that PM Lee went over in his NDR speech are laudable, there are still some areas where Singapore can do better. Though I’m no expert, it does seem that our mitigation measures are severely lacking. I understand that with every tax/investment/solution that is proposed, there are certainly challenges and costs. But Singapore is a wealthy country and if we do not take responsibility for our emissions, how can we expect other countries to, especially when they might not have the luxury to do so?

PM Lee said this in context to sustained effort to building adaptation measures: “We must make this effort. Otherwise one day, our children and grandchildren will be ashamed of what our generation did not do.” The government has to realise that this applies to our mitigation measures too. More emphasis has to be placed on mitigating climate change, even if the upfront costs may be great. Because the longer we wait, the greater the costs will become. With each tonne of CO2 we continue to release into the atmosphere, we increase human suffering in the future. Climate change is a moral issue, and it’s time treat it with utmost seriousness.

References:

Hardy, R.D. & Nuse, B.L. Climatic Change (2016) 137: 333. https://doi-org.libproxy1.nus.edu.sg/10.1007/s10584-016-1703-4

I WUF ANIMALS – World Animal Day

I think most of us have swooned over a cute picture of a fluffy white baby seal or a small kitten with innocent round eyes. If you are like me and love animals, well good news! World Animal day is happening October 4th this year.

World Animal Day aims to raise the status of animals in order to improve welfare standards around the globe [1]. On this day, the animal welfare movement across the globe is united to celebrate their efforts and are given an opportunity to increase awareness and education about animal welfare. Through such actions, there are hopes to create a world where animals are always recognised as sentient beings and full regard is always paid to their welfare.

History

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World Animal Day logo in the UK (Source)

October 4th is chosen for this cause in honour of St. Francis of Assisi – an animal lover and patron saint for animals, whose feast day falls on this day [2]. 1931 was the first year it was celebrated internationally and it has been going on for 88 years since [3]!

So… what are people doing?

World Animal Day is celebrated in a diverse manner around the world, with different focuses on conservation of biodiversity, protecting endangered animals, and supporting animal welfare.

A simple search on the World Animal Day website will lead you to a long list of events happening in each continent. There are art shows in Taiwan, releasing of native birds back into the wild in India, and a dog walk under the moonlight in South Africa [4].

What can I do in Singapore?

Don’t feel left out of all the amazing activities happening globally, you can do your own part in showing love to all animals here in Singapore too!

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Elephants in Singapore Zoo (Source)

Start with a trip to Singapore Zoo, Jurong Bird Park, River Safari, Night Safari or S.E.A. aquarium. There is a plethora of knowledge to learn from these places, not to mention you get to observe and fall in love with non-native animals.

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A female Sunda Coluga carrying her young spotted in Singapore (Source)

Singapore’s biodiversity is much more vibrant than most would think, besides the boars at Pulau Ubin and Long-tailed Macaques at Bukit Timah, there are numerous species of animals that can be spotted across the island. Take a walk in any of our nature reserves or parks to spot some scaly, furry, hairy or slimy locals. Of course, you can sign up for our guided walk at Macritchie Reservoir Park where we are able to help identify various species of animals too.

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Volunteers for SOSD (Source)

Take some time or money out to any of the many animal welfare groups and conservation efforts in Singapore. Head down to any of the animal shelters relocated at Sungei Tengah Road and lend a helping hand for a day or more. Garden City Fund, WWF Singapore and Wildlife Reserves Singapore are a few of the many conservation efforts we have protecting our animals and their habitats.

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Hamsters up for adoption at Hamster Society Singapore (Source)

If you have been thinking about getting a pet as a companion, ADOPT! There is a wide range of homeless pets waiting for your tender love – dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters and even fishes! Do your research on which animals will suit you and your family’s lifestyle the best. After you are well informed of the costs and responsibilities being a pet owner entails, head on down to any of the animal shelters and choose your new family member, then shower them with love and care for the rest of their life. That being said, do not make rash decisions and only adopt if you are capable of and in an environment suitable for caring for an animal.

Spread your joy and love for animals this World Animal Day! Wish all the birds, lizards, insects, mammals or fishes you come by a happy World Animal Day, taking time to appreciate them a little more than usual.

References:

[1] https://www.worldanimalday.org.uk/

[2] https://www.indiacelebrating.com/events/world-animal-day/

[3] https://www.awarenessdays.com/awareness-days-calendar/world-animal-day-2019/

[4] https://www.worldanimalday.org.uk/events/index/1/0/id/page:2

 Written by: Audrey

On Illegal Wildlife Trade and Elephants

Singapore’s Ivory Ban

At long last, Singapore has stepped up its conservation game! This year, on World Elephant Day (12th August), the National Parks Board (NParks) announced a ban on the domestic trade of elephant ivory, effective from 21st September, 2021 onwards [1]. Selling ivory or ivory-made goods would be prohibited, as well as the open display of such products for sale. We will be joining other countries such as the United States, China and Taiwan in fighting against illegal ivory trafficking. In fact, our ban could turn out to be the most stringent, according to WWF [2]. It’s great to hear that our government’s stance on this issue is far from half-hearted!

Wildlife Trafficking in Singapore

Did you know, illegal wildlife trade is actually prevalent in Singapore? Given our elevated global standing and strategic location, Singapore is a popular pitstop for illegal transactions on their way to their intended destinations [1]. The large hauls of elephant ivory and pangolin scales seized earlier this year are proof of this [3].

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Almost 9 tonnes of elephant ivory and 12 tonnes of pangolin scales were seized on July 21 earlier this year (Source: The Straits Times)

The Why in Illegal Wildlife Trade: Elephant Parts

While it’s heartening to see Singapore’s determination in cracking down on wildlife trafficking, the problem needs to be targeted at its root – demand. Live animals and dead animal parts alike are heavily trafficked all around the world. What exactly is driving this? Well, unfounded beliefs on the properties of animal parts and the cultural symbolism of the ivory are just some factors.

There are beliefs in medicinal properties of animal parts, such as having the miraculous ability to cure various health ailments. Yet, these beliefs aren’t scientifically backed and so are merely myths. To me, this makes the whole issue more tragic. Imagine having your teeth brutally pulled out just because people think it’s a panacea to their illnesses, and your kin is slowly dying out due to this misplaced belief! In Myanmar, more elephants are being poached as demands for their body parts increase [4]. Nothing is spared – their trunks, feet, skin, and even penis are used in traditional medicine. Their hide, for instance, is thought to cure eczema.

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Ivory isn’t the only thing driving elephant poaching… other body parts are highly sought after by those who believe in their supposed medicinal properties (Source: Pexel)

Moving on to the next point, ivory is highly valued, partly due to its rarity, and is carved into products ranging from religious figurines to even cutlery [5]. Owning anything ivory says something about one’s status in some countries like China, which means that elephants are being sacrificed to indulge people who wish to flaunt their social standing and affluence… where are the ethical implications of this [5]? Aside from being a social symbol, some people desire ivory for spiritual fulfilment [5].

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An ivory amulet from Thailand being sold online. It’s being marketed as having powers to increase the wearer’s affluence and boost their romantic relationships (Source)

They perceive accessories made out of ivory such as bangles and amulets as capable of warding off bad luck and malicious supernatural beings. This is part of the reason for the pervasive ivory trade in countries such as Thailand. There, people donate to gods and receive amulets in return, which are believed to bring good fortune and protect wearers from harm [6]. They are also readily sold in public. Amulets can be made of several types of materials, including – you guessed it – ivory [6]! It seems ironic to me that in a country where elephants are the national animal, people act in ways that contribute to the devastation of the very animal they revere.

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In Thailand, elephants are culturally significant. (Source)

More Action Needed

International trade in ivory has been prohibited since 1990, when the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) placed the African elephant under Appendix I – identifying the species as being threatened with extinction, and thus prohibiting trade in elephant parts (excluding exceptional circumstances) [7]. While this has been beneficial for elephant populations, poaching is still pervasive, and domestic markets on ivory should be shut down to ensure fuller protection of elephants. Some countries have yet to outlaw the ivory trade, such as Japan [8]. These legal markets thus undermine efforts against elephant poaching as they continue to generate demand and promote illegal ivory trafficking.

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An African elephant (Source: DiscoverWildlife)

Additionally, stricter enforcement is needed in countries where domestic ivory trade has been prohibited, for the ban to be truly effective. Despite the ban on the sale of ivory in China implemented at the end of 2017, Chinese demand for ivory is still going strong [5]. Those who are adamant in acquiring ivory products can circumvent the ban by flying to other countries to do so, such as Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, where the ivory sale is legal or the enforcement of ivory bans is lacking [5].

Why Conserve Elephants

Great numbers of elephants are hunted down each year for their tusks [9]. All species of elephants – African bush, African forest and Asian – are not spared. Some people may wonder, why should we protect them? Well, some arguments for protecting biodiversity include conserving nature for its intrinsic value – the existence of elephants is in itself valuable and they are hence worth conserving; and the importance of the role of elephants in the ecosystem.

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An Asian elephant – They have smaller ears than their African counterparts!
(Source: Wikipedia)

Elephants are keystone species – such species are critical for the maintenance of ecosystems [10]. They can be considered ecosystem engineers, affecting the physical landscape or characteristics of their habitat. For example, elephants are crucial in seed dispersal – eating the seeds of plants, they end up ‘planting’ new vegetation by excreting the seeds as they move from place to place [10]. They are capable of using their tusks to dig for water as well, providing other animals with a source of water [10]. Without their presence, entire ecosystems are greatly affected.

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An African forest elephant (Source: WWF)

Let’s have a closer look at forest elephants! Smaller in size and less prominent compared to their counterparts, their population is declining. It has been speculated that more than half the population were killed between 2002 and 2011, largely fuelled by ivory demand (and habitat destruction) [11].  This is worrying, given their ecological importance. Forest elephants are crucial for the growth of new trees – they ingest the seeds of trees and excrete them, prompting germination (their dung serve as fertilisers!) [12]. Furthermore, recent research has revealed that the feeding habits of forest elephants could enhance forests’ ability to act as carbon sinks [11]. Their preference for eating young trees and “early succession” plants (the first vegetations to grow in cleared or open forest areas) has been found to promote the growth and proliferation of larger woody trees, which are capable of storing more carbon [11]. Given the current climate crisis in which the increase in global carbon emissions is showing no signs of stopping, we really need our forests at their best carbon-storing capacity! This underlines the importance of conserving forest elephants as part of efforts against climate change.

Cracking Down on Ivory… How Far Must We Go?

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Woolly mammoths – the extinct kin of today’s elephants (Source)

Imagine needing to list the Woolly mammoth as a protected species to protect existing elephants? …What? If you found this absurd, you’re not alone, because I felt the same! This was suggested by Israel at the CITES conference this year, in which all 183 countries onboard the agreement meet to discuss details [13]. As ridiculous as this sounds, there’s some logic underlying it. As global temperatures rise, permafrost melts (such as in Siberia) revealing mammoth tusks that have long been preserved under ice [13].  Given how mammoth ivory trade is largely unrecorded and unregulated, there is a concern that illegal elephant ivory is being passed off as mammoth ivory (the two are not easily discernible), thus highlighting a loophole in the system [13]. To have to label an extinct species as ‘endangered’ to better safeguard their existing kin… it truly shows how difficult it is to comprehensively deal with the illegal wildlife trade.

There you have it! I hope you learnt something new from this post. Thanks for reading!

Written by: Vera

References:

[1] https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/environment/spore-to-ban-domestic-trade-of-ivory-from-2021

[2] https://www.wwf.sg/?uNewsID=351391

[3] https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/singapore-seizes-record-ivory-pangolin-scales-congo-vietnam-11745608

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/07/demand-elephant-products-drives-dramatic-rise-poaching-myanmar

[5] https://www.worldwildlife.org/magazine/issues/winter-2018/articles/why-do-people-buy-ivory

[6] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2012/10/blood-ivory/

[7] https://cites.org/eng/gallery/species/mammal/african_elephant.html

[8] https://www.worldwildlife.org/publications/ivory-trade-in-japan-a-comparative-analysis

[9] https://www.savetheelephants.org/about-elephants-2-3-2/statistics/

[10] https://www.savetheelephants.org/about-elephants-2-3-2/importance-of-elephants/

[11] https://theconversation.com/forest-elephants-are-our-allies-in-the-fight-against-climate-change-finds-research-120440

[12] https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/forest-elephant

[13] https://theconversation.com/why-we-need-to-protect-the-extinct-woolly-mammoth-122256