A news item caught my eye this morning relating to animal poaching in Africa and specifically about elephants. It is estimated that in 1950 the African elephant population numbered 5 million, by the 1989 their numbers had been devastated by poaching, leaving fewer than 450,000 in Africa. In reaction to this alarming trend the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITIES) placed the African Elephant at Appendix 1, as a most endangered species in 1989, and as a result in 1990 a global ban on the international trade of ivory was enforced.
“A Sky News special investigation has shown how China is driving demand for smuggled ivory from Africa, leading to a surge in the slaughter of endangered elephants. An undercover Sky film crew made contact with a man in Beijing who revealed his family runs an international ivory trafficking operation. At a meeting set up at a five-star hotel, he showed off three pairs of recently arrived tusks with a price tag of £40,000. Asked if he could supply more, he replied: “Don’t worry about that. If we can do a deal today, then next time I have some good ivory I’ll call you.” He explained his uncle works in West Africa and uses contacts to smuggle the tusks into China in their luggage.
Despite a worldwide ban on the sale of ivory, environmental groups say there has been a surge in the slaughter of elephants in Africa. The animals are gunned down by poachers before having their tusks sawn off. The carcasses are left to natures predators.
There is evidence the carnage is being driven by demand from the Far East and, in particular, by China’s new found wealth. An investigation carried out by the Environmental Investigation Agency in 2010 found a booming underground trade in Zambia, where African traders have learned the Chinese word for ivory – xiangya.
One dealer – identifying himself only as Stephen – described how he had sold three tonnes of ivory to a Chinese government delegation. He said: “There was no problem because, at that time, it was a matter of just going to the airport and putting on their plane. They went safely.” Customs officials in Hong Kong last year found 384 tusks packed inside a container shipped from Tanzania and labelled “dried anchovies”. Meanwhile, in Congo’s Lubumbashi Airport, three Chinese nationals were discovered carrying six suitcases packed full of tusks. Experts say the busts reveal only a tiny portion of a growing illicit trade.
But, once the ivory makes its way into China, it is virtually impossible to trace, thanks to a legal loophole. In China’s high-end ivory showrooms, elegant carvings sell for as much as £200,000. Often taking several months to complete, they are highly prized by China’s new rich as status symbols. All the dealers are accredited with the government and the ornaments come with a certificate issued by China’s State Forestry Administration. The certification process is supposed to guarantee that all the ivory on sale comes from a special, one-off deal done by China in 2008, when the country was permitted to buy several thousand tusks confiscated and stockpiled by African governments.
However, Sky News can reveal China’s legal ivory trade serves as a front for the trade in trafficked tusks. Filming secretly at one government accredited workshop, the manager said her business would only carve ivory that came with a certificate. However, when she left the room, one of her workers explained he also carved illegal tusks, even showing off chunks of smuggled ivory. Lisa Hua from the International Fund for Animal Welfare said China’s legal ivory trade only serves to encourage poachers and smugglers.
“As long as there’s a legal trade, the illegal ivory will find its way into the market, and that will directly threaten the survival of endangered elephants in the wild.” she said.
IFAW and other animal protection groups are calling for the Chinese authorities to implement a total ban on the sale of ivory.”
BLOOD IVORY: STOP ELEPHANT POACHING TODAY!
African countries are demanding relaxation of the ban on ivory trade. One off sales have been allowed in the past and now Tanzania and Zambia are calling for a regulation of trade instead of a blanket ban. Promoters of ivory trade regulation argue that money from sales could be used to prevent poaching and invested in elephant welfare. Co-ordinators of Kenya’s elephant programme, describe the Asian ivory market as ‘insatiable’ and are adamant that supply of ivory feeds demand. Elephant conservation remains a complex issue that is unlikely to vanish soon, one thing that is clear however that Africa’s elephants remain under threat and their fate remains far from certain.