Ivory and the Asian Elephant

While in parts of Africa, ivory poaching poses a great threat to elephants, in Asian elephants only the males carry ivory. Therefore, in Asia, ivory poaching eliminates only males. Since normally only a few male elephants get the opportunity to breed, killing of a few elephants by poachers is unlikely to have a major impact on Asian elephant conservation.

However where it is so extreme that the number of males is greatly decreased as in Periyar, India, where male to female ratios are around 1:100, genetic and demographic effects may cause problems. Poaching of such intensity indicates a complete breakdown of the law enforcement machinery and hopefully is not a situation that one has to contend with usually.

The incidence of tuskers among males, varies between populations of Asian elephants. Sri Lanka has perhaps the lowest incidence of tuskers, around 5-7%. Thus even if all the tuskers in Sri Lanka are eliminated, it does not threaten the conservation of the species.

Therefore, ivory poaching is an insignificant problem as far as conserving elephants in Sri Lanka is concerned. Anyway, because of the very special feeling for tuskers in Sri Lanka, ivory poaching is rare and stiff penalties and good enforcement discourages any would be poachers.

In a way, ivory poaching is an easy problem to deal with because of its simplicity - elephants are protected, a person killing an elephant for its ivory is committing an illegal act for profit and should be punished. In contrast, the major problem about conserving elephants in Sri Lanka and the rest of Asia, the human-elephant conflict, poses a much more intractable and complex.

Read more on human elephant conflict...