"Should the Clearly Extinct Woolly Mammoth Be Reclassified as Endangered?" Discussion Thread

Welcome to the discussion thread for the story, Should the Clearly Extinct Woolly Mammoth Be Reclassified as Endangered? Feel free to talk about the story in the conversation below!

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Being a woolly mammoth means never having to say you worry because no danger in this world can ever harm you again.

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After reading the article , I have mixed feelings about a reclassification.

I can understand the logic behind why the Israeli scientists are pushing for this move as so much of CITES and legislation regarding the wildlife trade ultimately centres on semantics. But at the same time the cynic in me agrees with what the paleontologist Jim Mead who is quoted in the text says , I don’t think that such a move (although it is an ingenious one) would translate into any tangible real world benefits for extant elephants.

I think ultimately just like the pangolin scale/ rhino horn / tiger bone / hornbill ivory trade which is decimating wild populations of these species the only concrete solution to reduce poaching is to focus on the primary causes : 1. The Chinese / Vietnamese consumer demand for these products 2. The socioeconomic drivers of poaching in Africa , South and South East Asia which are endemic levels of poverty and deeply entrenched corruption.

I think to reduce the demand nothing less than a cultural shift in perception to the purported value assigned to these products is needed in Chinese culture. But such a paradigm shift is tremendously difficult to achieve in China and Vietnam because it is a fight against millenia old traditions that evolved in one of the oldest human complex civilizations on earth ( I use “civilization” in the singular because Vietnam was millitarily and culturally dominated by China for thousands of years but I know that an indigenous culture and civilization existed there too). I know that more and more there are encouraging signs that with the endorsement by celebrities of campaigns in China and Vietnam to change perceptions that people are begining to question the value and social status of products derived from animals. But such changes ultimately take generations to truly sink into the cultural fabric and collective psyche of a nation and I think that it is pretty clear that wild populations of Pangolin, tigers , rhino, elephant and hornbill simply do not have the luxury of that amount of time left. Combined with other anthropogenic impacts from habitat destruction and climate change they are increasingly likely to vanish in the meantime so it is truly a race against time.

Then there is the need to reduce the socio-economic / socio-cultural drivers of poaching in the areas where these endangered species occur in the wild in Africa and Southern Asia and that is also a mammoth ( pun intended) task that will also take generations to achieve. Honestly , I can say that I’m glad that I work (and will always work) in conservation in the New world tropics of South America where although the situation is also complex it is nowhere near as much of a colossal headf*** in complexity as it is in Asia or Africa.

I remember years ago reading an article in National Geographic about the search for mammoth remains in Siberia in order to sell the tusks to the Chinese and how this could help to relieve the pressure of poaching on populations of African and Asian elephants. At the time I found it a really interesting and novel development and it seemed to me almost a kind of poetic justice that an ancient and extinct elephant species would indirectly save it’s beleaguered extant ancestors. Sadly it doesn’t appear to have worked out that well , which is a great shame.

Also , poor paleontologists , I can empathise with how p****d they must be with their fossils being blown up and sold to china before they can even conduct any studies on them.

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You appear to have a good grasp of the staggering complexity of this deceptively simple question which seems obviously absurd at first glance. With elegant succinctness you have addressed the complexities from varied perspectives the elements of this complexity compel. Bravo, Monsieur Mictlan! If by some remote chance the solution to the ivory problem is resolved in my increasingly shorter lifetime, the solutions to the majority of world problems will likely come concurrently as collateral benefits.

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Thank you for your kind words TexArcana , I really appreciate it.

I have to admit I dont feel like I have a grasp of the sort of African / Asian related conservation issues. In fact while I was at the university (the majority of the things we were taught related to those regions and Madagascar ) I actually always felt a bit out of my depth in that sense. If I’m honest I always felt frustrated by the emphasis in the curricular on those regions and the scant mention of the Neotropics which are sort of my real undying passion.

I totally agree Tex , I think it will be multi/ cross - discplinary attempts which will ultimately drive forward the solutions we need to combat environmental problems like biodiversity loss and global warming. But half of the problem is often establishing those multi-displinary partnerships and communications and even more challenging problem is how to maintain them over periods of time and turbulence.

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Yes, your understanding of the demand in Vietnam and China as prime example is correct and correct that generations must pass before change in that demand is affected. Meanwhile, can we not all agree that the African elephant continues to decrease in number to meet that demand? Realistically, any demand dooms the elephant unless the trade is controlled and poaching wholly thwarted. But that is impossible now as the poachers outgun, out maneuver, and are more heavily invested than the very authorities charged with protecting the ever dwindling African elephant herds. Demand will not be reduced by moral suasion, so putting controlled elephant ivory on the market and using the proceeds to control ivory and drive out the illegitimate trade is long overdue. Those of good intent who suppose outlawing elephant ivory will kill demand are condemning the African elephant to extinction.

Scott, I know where you are coming from about controlling the trade and I think it is a valid conversation to have. I had a very good university professor (one of the few ) who taught an environmental economics class and sort of convinced me of the value in at least seeing and acknowledging that side of the debate. Honestly , I get tired of the over moralistic platitudinist arguments and shouting matches of platitudes from the Animal Rights sphere of the argument.

I think there is clearly a problem with the prohibitionist approach in that it obviously strengthens the power of organized crime and also plays in the hands of a “Police-law enforcement industrial complex” which is more concerned with contracts and money making than “going in for the kill” on poaching. Afterall why would they eradicate the enemy whose existence grants them their lucrative jobs and wouldn’t erradication entail much more than a macho millitarised response but rather a socio-economic one ? like for example improvements to access to education/ employment / health care for impoverished rural peoples etc?

Having said that I’m not entirely convinced that legal trade pushes illegal poaching out of the picture either as there have been some studies that point to rises in poaching and consumption following legal ivory. Additionally , there are also huge risks of actually contributing to the growth of corruption iultimately n both Africa and China and making the problem 100 times worse than it currently is.

Furthermore, from what I’ve read the problem is further complicated by the fact that there are actually far too many elephants squeezed into ever decreasing pockets of land set aside as National parks. These overpopulated concentrations of elephants are then further constrained by encroaching human settlements in the surroundings with resulting human wildlife conflict and ecological degradation of the habitat through overbrowsing occuring.

Once that carrying capacity is reached which typically happens pretty fast with animals like elephants , eventual starvation of populations can ensue. It seems to me that management of elephants in National parks is pretty much required in order to maintain healthy populations and ensure stability of habitat , but then there are evidently people who are even ferociously against even doing that.

But I’m probably not the best person to ask about these things as I’m admittedly quite nihilistic and a little bit indifferent when it comes to conservation in Southern Africa as I will never work in that area of the world, its not really my interest, and there are already legions of people making it there life’s mission to protect its wildlife (often at the expense of its indigenous native peoples) .

I dont like the colonial undertones which are almost inseperable and unavoidable when it comes to conservation in Africa and I think of it as a well trodden / beaten path already occupied to carrying capacity by far too many well meaning conservationists who possess far too little independent critical thinking skills and are often just not particularly good at behaving like human beings. Needless to say, whenever I hear these debates about trophy hunting of lions or elephant ivory or rhino horn trade I just think how fortunate it is that there aren’t similar problems facing wildlife and ecosystems in the Neotropics.

To be frank , I am (and have been for years) far more concerned about the plight of the Asian elephant and Sumatran rhino, both the last of their genus, than I ever have been about the various African and elephant rhino subspecies which are in far better straits. Personally I think the media often focuses far too much coverage on Africa and its conservation problems to the detriment of raising awareness of environmental problems in other parts of the world. Ask people about rhinos in Africa and practically everyone will invariably mention something about the poaching crisis , but if you mention the Sumatran rhino , how many people will even know it exists ?

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Sounds like someone needs to go into the rhino ranching business. Tended herds are usually healthy and protected from predators (human or not) because the owner looks after them. Just sayin’

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I definitely wouldn’t want to be involved in the rhino ranching business even with and probably because of all the money to be made.

But regarding rhino’s, as I mentioned above , its not really the African species which concern me , its the plight of the Sumatran rhino in Asia which moves/ interests me and the conservation breeding programe of the species (if it works, fingers crossed) which really make me hopeful.

But not just powdered horn and horn products, think of all the sidelines:
Rhino Ranch tours
Rhino manure for the gardeners
Rhinoburgers?
Rhinoplasty, oh wait that’s something else.
Patreon sponsors for individual Rhino’s
Longest Rhino horn competition
Rhino milk?
Rhino racing?

Ted Turner helped bring about larger herds of bison, the rhino is waiting for it’s angel investor.

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A well reasoned reply and gratefully received. Our difference is in the questionable efficacy of the policy I advocate yet by personal reckoning for more than 40 years authorities far more qualified than I have advocated controlling and legalizing the African elephant ivory trade because demand is beyond moral suasion.

I spend half each year in Malaysia and, yes, the Sumatran rhino, the Malaysian tiger (on the Malaysian coat of arms no less), the Vietnamese tiger, the very fauna and flora of peninsular Malaysia and Borneo given over to logging and oil palm plantations, over fishing the waters in small mesh nets, will estrange future generations from what should have been theirs.

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Hahaha ! I can imagine “sustainably” sourced organic products derived from rhino ranching being quite edgy and popular among the priviledged moneyed bon vivants of Belgravia , the Upper East side and Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Especially given the kudos and platitudes from contributing to conservation in Africa.

I can just imagine Nigella Lawson springing back from her coked up divorce scandal featuring it on her new show :

"Now , these utterly delectable Southern white rhino meatballs are sustainable sourced from organic ranches in the South African veldt, so you are cooking AND conserving … and when rolled in breadcrumbs and sprinkled with grated parmesan they make for some delightful hors d’ oeuvres for when the chaps return hungry from the polo match (cue an arched eyebrow and wry smile intimating at carnal pleasures too x rated to be divulged on the day-time TV circuit) "

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Scottloar ,

I totally agree with your comment regarding Africa and South-East Asia.

By any chance have you visited the Sumatran rhino sanctuary ? If not you might be interested to , I think it is open to visits and it would certainly be a brilliant addition to the Atlas obscura

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