Controversial Ivory destruction: walking between the legal principle and emotion

Zhang Ke, First Financial Daily
Jan 7th, 2014

January 6th, the State Forestry Administration and the General Administration of Customs in Guangdong Province, joined together to destroy 6.1 tons of confiscated ivory in public. This is the first time for the Chinese government to destroy its stockpile of illicit ivory in public since the founding of People’s Republic of China.
Both criticism and praise have been received after it was reported. A number of international animal protection groups believe that, this action demonstrates the Chinese government’s unshakeable resolution to crack down illicit ivory trade and to help reduce and stop illicit wildlife trade, to the whole world, including African countries,
However, opponents said that those tusk were so valuable that shouldn’t have been destroyed. As the tusk getting rarer, the price is getting higher; as a result, more people would take the risk and break the law, being driven by the desires making them less sympathetic. Auction, as another, is also suggested, whose proceeds could be used for animal protection or education. Building a museum, exhibiting those confiscated ivory, to shows the dirty smuggling deals to the public can be another possible solution.
Do we have to destroy them?
In fact, this problem has been encountered in every country that destroyed illegal ivory before. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) organized an ivory destruction last year, crushed its entire stockpile of illegal ivory tusks and carvings, which had been confiscated in past 25 years.
At that time, FWS had made remark that, from the point of economic theory, in general, reducing in supply increases demand. So with all these ivory destroyed, it may lead to the rise of the price, which would provoke the poachers even more to continue their slaughter. What would have happen, if FWS had sold these stocks to the market in some legal ways, instead of destroying them?
Gavin Shire, a specialist in public affairs at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says: “basic supply-and-demand analyses are not sufficiently applicable here.” He explains that the FWS itself is not permitted to sell the ivory products in any way; The reason why the department stockpiled the tusk, was that it was being sold illegally. If it’s illegal for poachers and dealers, then it can’t be legal for the government departments and agencies, either. Zero tolerance means no tolerance at all. As to the supply-demand theory, Shire says that whether this particular portion is put into the market or not, it wouldn’t make any economic difference, because the amount is so small. But crushing this stockpile in front of a group of politicians, environmentalists, media and the public will help stimulate conversations about the true value of the ivory.
Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia chief representative, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), said: “The destruction of the confiscated ivory can prevent the ivory getting back the market again, which would stimulate poaching in return. More importantly, from poaching to purchasing, every country in this chain is playing a part in destroying ivory publicly. This situation demonstrates to all the consumers that the purchase of ivory is immoral and wrong. ”
Reports from the First Financial Daily nowadays, for the Chinese government, especially the China Forestry Bureau, the most important is to announce a clear attitude and hold a firm stand, particularly to give clear definition of the preservation and utilization .
In fact, in terms of preservation and utilization, the ambiguous attitude the bureau holding for a long time has been very controversial. Issues on hunting rights, live bear bile, and ivory smuggling, lasting for a long time, reconfirming government’s consistent ambiguous attitude—to utilize and protect the forest product.
Taking ivory issue for example, despite the fact that the bureau admits that it’s brutal and immoral to get elephants’ tusk, the manufacturing of ivory production is still of legit existence, claiming which as a way to protect traditional carving technology.
This questionable position leads to the public’s misunderstanding of illegality of the ivory trades and makes it extreme difficult to define whether a particular ivory trade is legal or not. Protectors said that because the government, in a few years, will purchase and distribute the ivory back to the market in several groups, the price of ivory will be raised and, thus, stimulate the demand of illegal production.
However, during the activities of destruction of the ivory, Zhao Shucong, the director of the China Forestry Bureau, explained that this activity has declared Chinese government’s consistent position of opposing and fighting against the illicit trade of the wild animal, which will help to raise the public’s awareness of protecting the wild animals and reinforce the responsibility of related law-enforcement agencies.
In the process of combating the illicit trade in wild animal, the public awareness does matter, but, as an expert advocates, severe measures must be taken to contain the situation .In China, the most effective way is to illegalize all the manufacture and trade of ivory and give severe punishment to the offenders, only in this way could lessen the poaching activities at root.
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