Tag Archives: African elephants

Ivory trade: A security as well as an environmental concern

Voice of Russia

February 3, 2014
Top level government representatives from 50 countries will gather this month to apply pressure on China to clamp down on ivory consumption within its borders. A growing Chinese middle class has stoked demand for the luxury material, leading to a killing spree in Africa. But there is also a deeper security concern – African militia and criminal groups sell the ivory for cash, which they use to buy weapons. Natasha Moriarty investigates.

The summit aims to bring together top-level government representatives from 50 countries and for the first time it is hoped one of China’s vice premiers will attend.

Prince William is expected to make a speech at the conference, which will be attended by Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague. US Secretary of StateJohn Kerry will also be present, along with the leaders of several African countries.

Organisers hope that Chinese media icons Jackie Chan – the actor – and Yao Ming – the 7ft 6in former basketball star – will attend, to ensure the conference receives widespread coverage in China.

Andrew Leun, an independent expert on China, says:

“There’s an important role to be played by media icons like Jackie Chan .. the Chinese want to stand tall in the world not just because of the growth of the economy but because they embrace world values … nationalism and pride will play a big role in stamping out the ivory trade.”

China drives ivory trade

The explosive growth of China’s emerging middle class has brought with it sweeping economic change and social transformation – and a rapacious appetite for ivory.

China is responsible for over 70 percent of global demand for illegal ivory, and the Chinese are also the world’s leading consumers of tiger bone soup and rhino horn cures.

Without the demand from China, conservationists say the illegal ivory trade would all but dry up.

The Chinese have coveted ivory for centuries. Hand-carved ivory objects are proudly displayed in Chinese homes to symbolise wealth and status.

But now, unprecedented numbers are able to afford the precious material.

China’s economic boom has created a vast upper-middle class, and this new consumer group has caused the price of ivory to triple on the streets of Beijing.

Slaughter in Africa

Tens of thousands of African elephants are now being slaughtered to meet the demand. Last year, poaching in Africa was at its highest level since an international ban on ivory was applied in 1989.

Conservationists say the frenzy of killing now threatens the future survival of elephants.

Though much of the ivory traded is illegal, loopholes in trade regulations allow the sale of ivory in some circumstances. Countries like South Africa and Zimbabwe – where elephant populations are stable – are allowed to sell trophy licences that allow hunters to bring ivory across borders. Ivory obtained before the international ban is also legal – which provides an effective smokescreen for criminal trade.

Will Travers of Born Free says:

“China is the biggest market because in 2008 the international community decided it was acceptable to sell some stockpiled ivory to China and Japan to satisfy demand … what it did was it stimulated demand…”

But global leaders are not motivated by concern for elephants and rhinos alone. They smell danger.

Links with armed groups

The underground ivory trade is increasingly militarised. Militia groups sell ivory, and use this cash to buy weapons.

Organized crime syndicates link up with them to move the ivory around the world, exploiting turbulent states, porous borders and corrupt officials from sub-Saharan Africa all the way to China.

Links have been established with Africa’s most notorious armed groups, al-Shabaab –the al-Qaeda cell group involved in the recent Westgate Mall siege in Nairobi – and central Africa’s Lord’s Resistance Army.

Last week, the UN Security Council made moves to impose international sanctions and freeze the assets of illegal wildlife traffickers.

We spoke to Charlie Mayhew, CEO of conservation group Tusk Trust, about the security concerns.

Conference focus

The London conference will focus on four objectives: strengthening law enforcement; reducing demand; international collaboration; and helping Africa communities to find sources of income linked to protecting the animals rather than killing them. Higher penalties for poaching and  smuggling will be a key topic of discussion.

All 38 African countries with elephants have agreed that their highest priority is to protect their elephants.

Conservationists hope the conference will herald an era when concern for animal welfare – rather than expensive trinkets – will be the hottest status symbol in China.

Two charged with illegally selling ivory artworks (China)

China Daily

January 14, 2014

Prosecutors in Beijing’s Xicheng district said on Tuesday that they have charged two people suspected of illegally selling ivory.

The two suspects, surnamed Liu and Ye, allegedly processed nearly 14 kilograms of ivory, valued at about 600,000 yuan ($99,300), and sold it to the public, the prosecutors said.

Since June 2010, the two had rented a room to process and sell artworks made of wood and ivory without any business license, according to the prosecuting authority.

At first, the pair only processed wood artworks but, from April 2013, they started making products of ivory because they realized the profits were much higher than for wood artworks, the prosecutors said.

“I know it is illegal to make ivory products, but what I didn’t think the fees for the artistry are illegal,” Liu told the prosecutors after arrest.

Zhang Lei, one of the district’s prosecutors, said Asian and African elephants in the wild face extinction and must be protected.

As per a judicial interpretation issued by the top court, people who illegally buy, transport or sell wild animals that are endangered species, or products from those animals, must be punished, Zhang added.

Article at the following link:

Opinion: China’s Ivory Crush Is Important First Step

Bryan Christy, National Geographic
January 8, 2014

In a surprising step, China this week became the latest in a growing number of countries to publicly destroy large quantities of ivory to bring attention to the global trade in illegal ivory. From any angle, China’s move has important and positive implications for the fight against an illegal ivory trade that is killing tens of thousands of African elephants every year.

Still, not all ivory destruction ceremonies are alike, and when it comes to the illegal ivory trade, China is not just any country.

“Wildlife trafficking has become a serious problem, and illegal trade of ivory and wildlife products is increasing,” China’s State Forestry Administration declared in a statement to the United Nations explaining its decision to destroy 6.1 tons of its ivory this week. The destruction was conducted “for the purpose of raising public awareness, and demonstrating China’s resolve to combat wildlife trafficking.”

China’s destruction ceremony comes on the heels of similar acts by the United States (six tons) and the Philippines (five tons), both of which crushed their entire national ivory stocks last year. Together these three events represent the first time in history that non-African countries have publicly destroyed their ivory.

Not All Ivory Destructions Are Alike

The destruction of illegal ivory has become perhaps the most recognizable and powerful symbolic act in wildlife conservation, starting in 1989 when Kenya’s President Daniel arap Moi, flanked by paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey, set fire to 12 tons of ivory.

Orange flames rising from that pile of tusks shocked the world and inspired parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to enact a global ban on international trade in ivory later that year.

What made Kenya’s action so significant was the sacrifice that the burning of its ivory represented: Burning ivory equaled burning cash, especially in a world before the ivory ban.

After the global ban on the ivory trade went into effect, elephant populations that had been decimated by poachers began to recover. The ban held for ten years until 1999, when CITES allowed a “one-time” experimental sale of 50 tons of ivory to Japan. The ivory trade ban took a second hit in 2008 when CITES allowed a second sale of 102 tons of ivory to Japan and China.

By all accounts, that second sale was a disaster. The Chinese economy was simply too hot, and global law enforcement too weak, to prevent the 2008 sale from opening the floodgates to a massive illegal ivory trade between Africa and China, resulting in the current bloodbath for African elephants.

In the wake of a poaching and trafficking crisis, countries have again turned to ivory destruction ceremonies to bring attention to the problem. In 2011 Kenya hosted a burn of 5.5 tons of ivory belonging to a number of African nations (but did not burn any of its own stock). Gabon burned its ivory in 2012.

Symbolic Acts Backed Up With Action

Importantly, destroying ivory stocks has been a symbolic act accompanied in each case by parallel action. Kenya’s 1989 ivory burn was not only a symbolic act for the world, it was also a tangible act of defiance against Zimbabwe and a handful of other pro-ivory-trade southern African countries that opposed an ivory ban. Likewise, Gabon’s burn said “no” to proposals to open Africa to ivory trading that were then actively being floated.

The Philippines ivory destruction ceremony was accompanied by an announcement of the launch of a new wildlife trafficking enforcement unit and an acknowledgment that the Philippines could not protect its ivory warehouse, which had been frequently robbed.

The United States, too, had more to say. The ivory destruction ceremony in Denver put a physical face on President Obama’s new cabinet-level Wildlife Trafficking Task Force, formed in part to recognize that wildlife trafficking is a national security issue, especially when it comes to ivory. Officials used the ivory destruction ceremony to float the idea of a nationwide ban on domestic ivory sales in the United States, not just on imports or exports. That idea is now gaining momentum in Washington and around the country.

The question is, what is the parallel message from China? Unlike any of these other countries, which all oppose international trade in ivory, China supports it. In fact, China is the world’s leading ivory consumer, legal and illegal, and it is home to the world’s biggest ivory-carving factory.

What Does This Mean for China?

Certainly, publicity from its ivory crush will help the Chinese government inform its public that not all ivory in China is legal. A survey conducted as part of the documentary Battle for the Elephants indicated that nearly 60 percent of Chinese believe that making ivory “illegal to purchase under any circumstances” under “the strong recommendation of a government leader” would be the most effective way to stop ivory trading.

So the crush has implications in terms of public awareness and demand reduction.

Yet China’s wildlife department, the State Forestry Administration, has a history of cooking the books when it comes to ivory policy. As I reported in Blood Ivory, in order to gain CITES approval to buy ivory in 2008, China made many small ivory seizures to improve its law enforcement rating even though it made no significant inroads against crime.

Likewise, China and Japan joined forces to manipulate the 2008 ivory auction prices and, rather than undercut the black market with cheap ivory as many hoped the sale would do, those in the government ivory industry raised prices, inviting more illegal trade, not less.

China’s ivory crush is to be commended on a level having nothing to do with wildlife directly. As I discovered during my three-year investigation of the international ivory trade for National Geographic, one of the primary uses of the very valuable sculptures carved in China’s legal ivory factories is as bribes to curry favor with superiors in government or to influence business clients. IFAW’s Grace Ge Gabriel has pointed out that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s austerity program has targeted corruption at all levels of government, with the consequence of reducing sales of luxury items, including shark fin soup and, potentially, ivory.

So far, the world has been unable to police the killing of elephants that has exploded after the legal ivory market was opened in China. Chinese wildlife department officials have repeatedly denied that China’s ivory industry is responsible for Africa’s poaching problem. As recently as last year, China’s CITES delegate Wan Ziming called upon delegates to allow sales to China of not only ivory from elephants that died of natural causes, but also of ivory seized in police actions.

Destroying such ivory this week suggests a possible change in thinking among wildlife department officials. Or, better still, maybe it suggests that more than China’s wildlife department is now listening.

Trading in death ‘for a fast buck’: Heathrow ivory seizures hit record

Justin Davenport, London Evening Standard
02 December 2013

Heathrow airport is at the centre of a booming trade in illegal ivory, with most of it being carried by big-name courier companies.

Border officials are making record seizures, the vast majority taken from newly slaughtered African elephants.

Often disguised as African handicrafts, the contraband is being smuggled in small packages that transit Heathrow on their way to China.

The trade is being driven by the economic boom in China and the Far East, where ivory is seen as a symbol of status and wealth. Chinese workers employed in Africa are buying up ivory to send home, making huge profits.

The illegal goods are sent via the big courier firms, who route packages via Heathrow and other European hub airports unaware of their contents.

Last year a specialist UK Border Force team made 50 seizures of ivory weighing 80.7kg at British airports — compared with just 3.3kg in 2010. Most was at Heathrow. The number of seizures is thought to be a fraction of the amount being smuggled.

Grant Miller, senior officer on the team, said the packages were all falsely described as “handicrafts” and always addressed to Chinese individuals, most of them in the big cities of Hong Kong and Guangzhou.

Most of the ivory had been transformed into intricately carved jewellery and decorations such as bangles, beads, medallions, and name blocks. They were often wrapped in tinfoil in a misguided attempt to hide them from scanners.

Some had been made to look like electrical circuits with wires attached, while one piece from a baby elephant was painted black to make it appear like wood. The UK Border Force team is training customs officers in Africa and Hong Kong to detect the contraband.

Mr Miller said the trade was driven by greed, and the new-found wealth of the middle classes in countries such as China and Vietnam.

“Workers in Africa are posting smaller consignments in courier packages that get routed through London,” he said. “These are Chinese workers taking opportunity to make a fast buck by sending ivory home. People see rhino horn and ivory as a status symbol.

“If you look at the poaching levels there is no way you can see this getting better, the figures are going through the roof. We are at a critical stage in terms of environmental issues, if we do not take this seriously we will lose [threatened species].

“What is positive is people like Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton and now the UK are sitting up and saying enough is enough.”

The elephant emergency: Summit to be held in Botswana

Katie de Klee, Daily Maverick

18 Nov 2013

The African elephant is the world’s biggest land mammal; walking the earth at a dignified pace, the elephant has earned its place in the folklore and legend of many cultures. But this impressive creature is being slaughtered at alarming rate for its ivory: it is estimated one elephant is killed every 15 minutes. Check the time now; mark the moment the next grey giant falls. An emergency summit addressing the problems of the illegal ivory is to be held in Gaborone, Botswana at the beginning of December.

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President Ian Khama of Botswana will open the summit, and Heads of State and representatives of African elephant range countries will be in attendance, along with high-level representatives from transit and destination countries.

The summit will aim to address the following topics: penalties for ivory trading, law enforcement, population monitoring and public awareness.

A study conducted by the Conservation Action Trust (CAT) found that there were radical differences in the legislation and penalties surrounding poaching in African countries. Punishment must be seen to outweigh the potential financial rewards of the illegal ivory trade, acknowledging the severity of the crime and acting as a real deterrent. Maximum and equivalent penalties should apply in all countries.

National task forces should be formed and an increase in law enforcement and wildlife rangers should be facilitated. Ivory poachers are now often part of organised, armed networks, better equipped and connected than the rangers trying to stop them. More worryingly, the money from the poaching is increasingly often going towards armed rebellions and terrorism. The recent attack on the Nairobi mall by terrorist group al-Shabaab was partly funded by the illegal ivory trade.

The threat to national and international security would also be addressed by better intelligence sharing amongst States, another issue that will be given some time for discussion in Gaborone.

The IUCN will also propose that there needs to be better elephant population monitoring at national levels, and more effort should be put into raising public awareness.

Although the summit calls for global action, eight countries have been identified as being central to recent surges in elephant poaching. These countries are source countries Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, transit countries Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines, and destination countries Thailand and China. These countries are known as the ‘gang of eight’.

If satisfactory action is not taken by these eight countries to halt the trade of illegal ivory, the IUCN is suggesting heavy trade sanctions on all wildlife products – including the lucrative orchid and crocodile skin industries. Tourism is one of the biggest industries in many African nations, and the heads of these states must be shown that the greatest economic value comes from the living beast, and not from its by-products.

At the beginning of the last century there were 10 million African elephants on earth. Now there may be as few as 400,000. According to IUCN, the number of elephants killed has doubled in the last decade. Southern Africa is their stronghold, but at the rate they’re being killed, in 50 years’ time there won’t be one wild elephant left. That would be an unforgivable indictment on our species.

The Ivory Trade Is Out of Control, and China Needs to Do More to Stop It

Per Liljas, Time Magazine

Nov. 01, 2013
Around 100 African elephants are being slaughtered daily just so people can carve ridiculous ornaments from their tusks
Ride the subway in a Chinese metropolis like Beijing or Shanghai and chances are you’ll come across an ad depicting mutilated Chinese characters.Xiang, the first character, means elephant, except that lacking some strokes, it is as if the animal is missing the tusks. The  second and third characters stand for tiger and bear — but the missing strokes make them seem to be losing bones and gall bladder. The fourth and last character, ren, or human, is cut in half.

The ad is intended to stifle demand for the body parts of these wild animals, which in China are commonly thought to possess naturopathic benefits (or, in the case of ivory, ornamental ones). The market has soared on the back of the country’s growing wealth, and that has been a disaster for the most sought-after animals.

This year has been particularly dark, especially for ivory, the trade in which has been banned since 1989 by an international treaty. In Africa, around 100 elephants are being killed every day, by poisoning, machine guns or rocket-propelled grenade launchers fired from the ground or helicopters. Such poaching is feeding terrorist groups like al-Shabab, who conducted the deadly assault on the Westgate mall in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, in late September.

In Hong Kong, one of the trade’s main transit points, seizures of ivory have climbed alarmingly high, from 2,900 kg for the whole of 2010 to 7,200 kg seized from the start of 2013 to mid-October. This grim haul so far this year amounts to 3,349 tusks respectively, or the equivalent of almost 1,675 dead elephants.

Part of the problem is that many Chinese are unaware that killing is involved. “The Chinese word for ivory, xiangya, literally means elephant’s teeth,” says Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia regional director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). “It has led to a very deep and wide misconception that ivory can be harvested without killing elephants.”

In a 2007 survey, the IFAW discovered that 70% of Chinese polled did not know that ivory came from dead elephants. This led to the organization’s first ad campaign — a simple poster explaining the actual origins of ivory. A campaign evaluation earlier this year found that the ad, promoted by the world’s largest outdoor advertising company JC Decaux, had been seen by 75% by China’s urban population, and heavily impacted their view on ivory. Among people classified as “high risk” — that is, those likeliest to buy ivory — the proportion who would actually do so after seeing the ad was almost slashed by half.

The IFAW isn’t the only organization trying to raise awareness in China. In one WildAid ad, broadcast in the seatback video sets of Shanghai and Beijing taxis, basketball star Yao Ming blocks bullets fired at elephants.

Tom Milliken, elephant-and-rhino program coordinator at the wildlife-monitoring organization Traffic, says that changing people’s views about ivory is possible. He took an active part in raising awareness of the consequences of the ivory trade in Japan in the 1980s.

“Japan was the largest consumer of ivory in the world, it was the China of its day,” Milliken says. “Thanks to campaigns and celebrities taking a stance, there was a major transformation, and Japan today barely accounts for 1% of its heyday market.”

Some of that market is legal — and that is itself a problem. China has licensed 37 carving factories and 136 retail shops to deal in preprohibition ivory, or ivory sold to the government in a one-off deal in 2008 by the same authority that set up the 1989 ban, the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES.

Launched as a way to diminish the demand for illegal ivory, that sale of 50 tons of ivory from African stockpiles has been criticized for having the exact opposite effect. One reason is that it has confused the Chinese over the illegality of ivory consumption. Another is that it has made the task of distinguishing legal ivory from illegal almost impossible. Others say that the Chinese government’s decision to ration the release of legal ivory over several years, and sell it at vastly increased prices, has simply sustained demand for the illegal kind.

“According to one factory that I spoke to, the legal releases only last for one month,” says Gabriel at IFAW. “The other months, they have to use illegal ivory.”

Colman O’Criodain, policy analyst in international wildlife trade at WWF, says, “Messages such as ‘Don’t buy it because it’s illegal’ or ‘Don’t buy it because you are killing elephants’ don’t necessarily work with hard-core consumers, who see these messages as increasing the cachet of the product.”

Many of these type of consumers have moved onto the Internet, where the IFAW has been working with the government and popular Internet forums and marketplaces such as Baidu and Alibaba to screen for keywords such as ivory or tusks. But as soon as one word is banned, a synonym pops up, such as “blood tooth” or “African white plastic.”

“Sometimes we feel that what we’re doing is just a drop in the bucket,” says Gilbert.

Over the past few years, Chinese authorities have beefed up both customs and law enforcement to tackle the illegal trade. Earlier this year, a licensed ivory trader was sentenced to 15 years in prison for smuggling several tons of ivory from eastern Africa. Recent purges of big-spending corrupt officials also provide a hope of reducing the demand for ivory. Milliken at Traffic would like to see China taking a more active role in the African continent too, where Chinese nationals to a large extent are directing the trafficking.

“When Chinese individuals are arrested in Africa, and it happens all the time nowadays, they suddenly speak no English or local languages. Their computers are confiscated, but because the data is in Chinese, there is little scope for intelligence. If Chinese law enforcement would work with their counterparts in Africa, a vast amount of information could be gleaned.”

Never mind the stroke for tooth. If the Chinese authorities don’t act fast, we could be heading toward a future when we won’t be needing the other strokes in the character xiang either.

Dubai police intercept half a ton of smuggled ivory

Wafa Issa, The National
September 6, 2013

DUBAI // Police have intercepted a shipment of over half a ton of ivory.

Found at Dubai International Airport, the haul was described by police as being one of the largest found in the emirate.

The announcement was made via Dubai Police’s official Twitter account on Wednesday, although no details on how the shipment was detected were provided.

Dubai is seen as a transit point for the trade in endangered animals and their body parts, and ivory is among the most-seized items by customs officers at Dubai International Airport.

The illegal trade in ivory results in the deaths of thousands of elephants every year.

Up to 50,000 elephants are slaughtered each year by poachers to meet the soaring demand for ivory, according to estimations from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw).

One kilogram of ivory can be sold for around US$1,000 (Dh3672) on the black market.

Last November, Dubai Customs seized a haul worth Dh15 million.

Coming into the UAE via Jebel Ali Port, the shipment of 215 tusks came from 108 African elephants and was hidden in 40 boxes containing beans.

In May this year a campaign to battle the illegal trade of ivory was launched at Dubai International Airport by Dubai Police. Advertisements warning passengers that ivory smuggling leads to prosecution were shown on video screens.