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A Young Chinese Conservationist Discusses His Country’s Role in the Ivory Trade

A Young Chinese Conservationist Discusses His Country’s Role in the Ivory Trade
Christina Russo, A Voice for Elephants, National Geographic

June 2, 2014

Gao Yufang, 26, is a Chinese researcher and conservationist who graduated last month with a masters from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

At Yale, Gao focused his studies on the ivory trade, with emphasis on the varied, sometimes conflicting understanding about the Chinese role in it. This, he believes, creates obstacles to stopping the slaughter of African elephants.

During the past two years Gao has conducted research in Kenya, Botswana, Tanzania, Hong Kong, and mainland China and analyzed nearly 3,000 Chinese news articles, as well as a large volume of statistical data on the Chinese ivory market.

Last December, at the invitation of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Botswana government, he spoke as a youth ambassador at the African Elephant Summit in Botswana.

This month, Gao will be returning to China and hosting two African conservationists—Resson Kantai and Christopher Kiarie, also in their 20s—on a tour of China’s ivory markets.

Russo: Tell me about your forthcoming trip to China.

Gao: The three of us are going to Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Xiamen, Quanzhou, Fuzhou, and Shanghai. These are the main ivory trading centers in China. We’re going to visit these cities and talk to the general public, the Chinese media, and Chinese conservation groups about elephant conservation. We hope to create a China-Africa conservation fellowship.

Do you think youth are particularly important in this conversation?

Many people, even in the Chinese conservation community, are not participating in elephant conservation or talking about the ivory trade. Because of the lack of participation from Chinese civil society, there’s lots of misinformation about the Chinese ivory trade. Most of the ivory researchers are not Chinese.

My generation—the youth generation—is the most active group in Chinese society. With this trip, we are trying to create the opportunity for youth to participate, because actually they’re really keen and energetic and enthusiastic about elephant conservation when they learn about it. If we provide them the opportunity, they will take it.

What led you to study the ivory trade while you were at Yale?

When I came to Yale in September 2012, everyone was talking about ivory trade. As a Chinese in the U.S. who understood how the conservation community in China works, I was seeing a great gap in understanding the ivory trade. I felt that people were—and are—talking past each other. So I got curious: What is really going on here? And this curiosity motivated me to take on the ivory trade project.

What did you notice about the way China, the U.S., and Africa “spoke” to each other about the trade and the poaching crisis?

What I found is one of the major obstacles for solving this elephant poaching problem is that each party has a very different view about the motivations and constraints of the other parties.

What are some of the misperceptions from Africa’s perspective about China?

Africa’s perspective is influenced by the West’s perspective. Many African conservationists have never been to China, and what they know about the ivory trade is usually from the news media or Western international conservation organizations.

In this Western narrative, most people believe elephant poaching is caused by Chinese demand for ivory. Also, that China’s economic development has created a large middle class and this middle class buys ivory for social status.

Is this true?

If you say hundreds of millions of Chinese middle class [people] are demanding ivory, this is an exaggeration of the ivory market in China.

The majority of the Chinese never see ivory in daily life. In my research, I estimate that over 99 percent of Chinese never buy ivory, and the potential ivory buyers are less than one percent of the Chinese population.

The problem is that China has a very large population, so even a small percentage can have a great impact. Ivory is a tiny industry in China, and Chinese government officials say they’re worried about the counterproductive impacts of this exaggeration. But it is also true that China does bear an inescapable responsibility in the trade.

You have found that this concept of the “middle class” itself is somewhat misguided. You explain it’s more specific than that, and the primary ivory buyers are the baofahu or tuhao.

Yes, the Western media and conservation organizations talk about the middle class, but it is actually more specific. From a typical Chinese perception, the baofahu and tuhao are the major buyers of ivory. The charactersistics of the baofahu or tuhao are that they are very rich—but also very uneducated—and they want to show off their social status.

This is still not the whole picture, because the ivory market in China is very diverse. Attributing the problem to baofahu underestimates ivory consumption, while attributing the problem to [the] middle class overestimates the ivory demand. The truth is in the middle.

Photograph by Robert Sutcliffe/Elephants Without Borders
Please talk about the ivory markets in China.

There are three types: the white, the black, and the gray.

The white market is the legal ivory market. The black market is the illegal market. The gray market [is] where the legality is uncertain.

So the white market consists of 145 ivory shops and ivory repair outlets and 37 ivory factories. Most of these facilities are located in the eastern part of China, especially Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing. And the number of these legal ivory facilities has increased from 40 in 2004 to 182 in 2014.

Many Western NGOs and media have already talked about the legal market. And some researchers and journalists went to investigate the legal market and found a lot of loopholes and violations of the ivory identification and registration policy.

The black market takes two forms, and the first is the physical market. The other is the online market. In the past few years, the Chinese government has tightened control of the physical black market. So what I found is that many ivory dealers are now shifting their business to online trading.

One of the main forms of online trading is the Baidu Post Bar. Ivory traders will sell the ivory by using some [other] word—they don’t say it’s “ivory” but will say it’s “white plastic,” for example. Every day people visit the bar, and the illegal ivory traders post photos of raw ivory or worked ivory. And they ask potential consumers to contact them and communicate on Wechat, which is the Chinese version of WhatsApp. The illegal dealers will then send the ivory to the buyers.

Is this bar internationally used, or just domestically?

The bar is an Internet platform, so everyone around the world, as long as they can read Chinese, can go to the website. But the trade is within China. Chinese dealers sell the illegal ivory to Chinese buyers. Some dealers have direct connections with middlemen in Africa.

Tell me about the gray market.

The gray market is the live auction market of ivory art works. I feel this is very important. Sometimes, when talking about the auction market in China, many conservationists, especially English-speaking conservationists, confuse this with the online auction. This is a live, off-line market.

Why is this off-line market so important?

This is where the big money is. In the gray market, the current ivory registration and identification system doesn’t distinguish antique ivory from new ivory. But the ivory collectors do distinguish antique and new ivory. And antique ivory is the most expensive.

According to the Chinese ivory control policy, all ivory in China can only be sold in the white market, the legal market. But because the auction market is a very new thing, it is not well regulated.

How does this gray market affect the ivory trade and poaching?

The trade trend of ivory at the off-line market started to increase around 2006, mushroomed after 2009, and then peaked in 2011. After 2011 it suddenly diminished.

Before 2011, the trend of the ivory gray market is significantly correlated to elephant poaching in Africa. The price can be incredibly high in the gray market. The Chinese media, when they talk about the ivory market, usually [mean] the auction market. So those ivory carvings that achieve an incredibly high price bring lots of attention from the media, and this in turn increases the perception that ivory is a good investment. People anticipate that if they buy an ivory carving at this moment, in the future it’s going to make a lot of money.

Another step in my research is to understand the conditions that caused the different trends in the three markets. May I explain this?

Yes, absolutely.

Many conservation groups, animal welfare groups, and the media believe the 2009 CITES one-off sale stimulated ivory demand. This is the perception of many reports. But I’m not satisfied with this. To understand what caused ivory demand in China, we need to understand why Chinese buy ivory. We need to understand the different values of ivory in Chinese perception.

Chinese society has attached many values to ivory. The economic value of carved ivory as a good investment is the first. The second is the social value of ivory. The third is the cultural value of ivory as a traditional art. Ivory carving in 2006 was officially designated as a national intangible cultural heritage. The fourth value is the esthetic value—those who believe ivory is very beautiful, the necklaces and bangles they think are very pretty. The fifth is the religious value, such as ivory statues and guru beads, Buddhist ivory pendants, and statues of Quan Yin. The last is the medical value. Some people believe that if you wear ivory bangles, for example, it’s good for your health.

It’s also important that we understand the social change that promoted some of these values. I identified two trends.

The first was the preservation of traditional culture. In 2002 the Chinese authorities started to recognize the importance of protecting traditional culture, and there were lots of initiatives launched to protect this, and ivory carving is just one. The carvers seized on this opportunity, and ivory carving became an official national intangible cultural heritage in 2006. This increased the cultural value of ivory, and it’s one reason the authorities would like to have the ivory trade.

The second, and most important, trend is the boom of arts investment in China, especially after 2008 and 2009, because around this time the stock market and real estate market didn’t perform as well as expected. So people started to invest in many forms of arts and antiques and collectibles, and this included furniture, paintings, antique books, and ivory.

This art market is related to the gray market, because the auction market is an important channel for liquidation [of] investment[s]. The arts investment boom increased the value of ivory as an investment alternative that has driven ivory demand in China.

But in 2011 the authorities imposed an ivory auction off-line ban. A lot of Chinese news articles talked about this ban, but the English media rarely talk about this. This is important: Because of this ban, the ivory gray market suddenly diminished, and the [price] increase of ivory slowed down.

Some groups in China are now lobbying to drop the ban. The problem is that because it’s poorly regulated, new ivory can enter the market and can be fabricated to look antique.

In your research, did you come to understand whether Chinese buyers of ivory know—or care—that elephants are being killed for the their ivory?

Professional ivory investors know a lot about ivory, and they know a lot about elephant poaching. They distinguish the different types of ivory—they say it’s yellow, white, or blood ivory, and they have different explanations for each kind.

Some of these professional investors openly say that blood ivory is from [a] poached elephant. And the ivory was got when the elephant was still alive. Of all the kinds of ivory, blood ivory is the most expensive. So they know exactly where the ivory comes from.

But the general public, who simply buy ivory because of, say, its esthetic value, I believe they don’t know the ivory came from poached elephants. They simply consider ivory the same as other beautiful jewelry, like jade.

So let me get this straight. From everything you are telling me, Chinese professional investors and art collectors are the most influential group driving the trade in your opinion?

Yes.

But we must distinguish between collectors and investors. Investors care about money. Collectors also care about cultural value and esthetic value. And the collectors, some of them are really good people. They want ivory from legal source[s]. The collectors can be very law abiding.

When you graduated from Yale, you decorated your hat in honor of Mountain Bull, an iconic Kenyan elephant who was recently killed for his ivory.

At Yale we have a tradition of decorating our hats. People know me as “the elephant guy.” So I put an elephant on my head, and at that time Mountain Bull was killed.

I feel I have the responsibility to help elephant conservation in Africa. I’ve received a lot of support from many, many people, and it’s those people, the ones who are motivated by their genuine love for the elephants, that most encourage me.

I realize this problem is very complicated. Many people here in the U.S. care a lot about [the] elephant because of its intrinsic value and because they feel a moral responsibility or they want to protect [it] for the next generation. But Africans may have different concerns—about livelihood and issues about development and well-being. You cannot simply impose your own values and ask them to have the same feeling you do.

So what I’m trying to do is to listen to the different actors, whether U.S. rich people or local African people who are suffering from conflict with elephants and must think about next meals or the Chinese who care about culture. I try to understand all this, and how we can bring people together to find common ground. I really believe ensuring a viable future for elephants is the common interest for the global community.

CHINA PUBLICLY CRUSHES IVORY WITH THE MESSAGE: WE DO NOT NEED IVORY

CHINA PUBLICLY CRUSHES IVORY WITH THE MESSAGE: WE DO NOT NEED IVORY.

06/01/2014

This original link for this article can be found in this link: http://www.chinanews.com/gn/2014/01-06/5698875.shtml

According to an article on China media, this afternoon, the State Forestry Administration and the General Administration of Customs of China will hold a public destruction of confiscated ivory in  event in Guangzhou, China. It is reported that the amount of ivory that will be publicly destroyed is 6.1 tons. This is the first time China has publicly destroyed ivory, demonstrating the Chinese government firmly opposes and seriously maintains its position on illegal wildlife trade.

According to the State Forestry Demonstration, the event this afternoon, the ivory will be gathered in a neat area, after which it will be destroyed. The event will start at 1530hrs. Then, the staff will take the small ivory materials and products and feed them directly to the crushing machine. For the large tusks, they will first use the chainsaws to cut the ivory to smaller pieces, after which they will then sent to the mill. Due to the amount of ivory to be destroyed and the cutting of ivory into smaller parts before been put into the mill for crushing, the 2 ivory crushers will keep going for several hours to ensure that the ivory has been completely crushed. Another reporter also learned that, after the destruction of this ivory, some of which will be used for public education and public warning exhibition hall of the museum, the rest will be stored centrally.

All along, the ivory was been touted as an investment vehicle, been considered as “white gold” and as a result the prices were soaring all the way. According to insiders, before the year 1990, a kilogram of ivory did not exceed 1000 yuan (ksh.15,000), but now, in the black markets, a kilogram of ivory has risen up to between 20,000 and 30,000 yuan (Ksh. 300,000 and ksh.450,000). Over the last 20 years, the price of ivory has risen to over 30 times.

This time, all the ivory that will be destroyed was confiscated in the illegal ivory trade war, but taking into consideration the commercial value and the use value, online friends are asking: Direct destruction of ivory is a pity, ivory has many uses, why not take advantage of the national income to avoid a wastage of natural resources? Why did the Chinese government have to bear huge losses in an effort to destroy it?

Destruction of ivory is a huge loss for the government, so when a country takes such measures, it also indicates that the government will in the future end this trade. Keeping safe the ivory seized by the government is also a huge task. Huge profits will induce the criminals to take extraordinary actions . Many of the countries that have stockpiles have in the past experienced cases where ivory has been stolen from the stores. Thus the destruction of ivory can save on the manpower and resources to be used to reduce the possibility of induced crime.

In relation to today’s ivory crushing activity, the CITES Secretary General John Scanlon said “I hope that those involved in illegal activities will listen. If you continue to engage in the illegal ivory trade, then eventually will be seized and will face severe punishment. Investments made in the illegal trade will in future be rewarded in form of prison terms, heavy fines and confiscation of property. ”

According to calculations of mature elephants, the ivory grows up to between 1 and 2 meters in length. Therefore so as to get ivory of a total weight of 6 tonnes, it means that up to 40 elephants were brutally killed.

Recently, it was reported that there was a vicious massacre of elephants in Zimbabwe where more than 300 elephants were poisoned using cyanide. At that time, a picture that was taken from the air was startling: elephant carcasses lie all over the park, some of the pictures captured scenes of young elephants lying by the carcasses of their mothers. It is really painful.

The background of every elephant tusk in the illegal ivory trade is a story of bloodshed, and allowing the people to escape punishment for their selfish interests, even after their cruel actions is really cruel. Through investigations, IFAW found out that the international illegal ivory trade chain includes 4 links which are: consumers, poachers, smugglers and the markets. In order to completely destroy the illegal ivory trade chain and protect the elephants, many countries all around the world are taking part in the efforts to end these bloody killings. IFAW’s Asia Director believes that this action by the Chinese government will send a message to the world saying “We do not need Ivory.”

Ge Rui: “Many people who use ivory do not know that this ivory was acquired after an elephants was brutally murdered. Crushing the ivory sends to the whole world an important message: telling the poachers in Africa that the Chinese people do not need ivory. It is also a message to the smugglers, telling them that illegal ivory will in no way be allowed into China, thus to the consumer, the message is deep, that they should make informed decisions when making purchases, and choose the right decisions.”

A professor at the Beijing Normal University’s department of Science Studies Zhang Li, who has been involved in the research and protection of the Asian elephant, has in the recent past been calling for the destruction of ivory as a way of managing the confiscated ivory. He believes that from the action that has been taken by the Chinese government this time, it shows that the Chinese government is determined in fighting the illegal ivory trade on the one side, while on the other side; it can guarantee that these ivory products can’t make their way back into to the market.

Zhang Li: “Through this action to destroy the ivory in the stockpiles, it is an honest message and a sign to the world from the Chinese government showing its stand on the illegal ivory trade. I think that this is a very big sign by the Chinese government. Currently, going by the events in the last 2 years, the African elephants have met a very unfriendly environment where they have been under much attack. In the more than 30 African countries that are monitored by CITES, the data in the last 2 years, that is 2011 and 2012 indicate that the numbers of elephants that have been poached have been higher than the average rate of growth of the natural populations. The African elephant has an annual decrease rate of 2% of the entire population of elephants in Africa.”

The main reasons for this is the fact that because the benefits of the illegal ivory trade are profit driven, it has led to rampant poaching activities, so our country, after The Philippines and America, has taken up to destroy a large stock of confiscated ivory, which means that the Chinese government is determined in its fight against smuggled ivory. (Journalist: Han Xiu)

Article translated by Chris Kiarie.

 

 

 

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China – Guangzhou Ivory Crush

By WildAid

WildAid, Save the Elephants, and the African Wildlife Foundation applaud China’s decision to destroy an estimated 6 tons of confiscated ivory in Guangzhou today. In 2013, the NGOs, along with former NBA superstar Yao Ming and actress Li Bing Bing, called on China to raise awareness about elephant poaching, reduce the demand for ivory, and protect endangered wildlife.

“Today’s ivory crush is a significant step in raising public awareness and will hopefully lead to similar events throughout China,” said Yao Ming, who, alongside The Duke of Cambridge and David Beckham, will appear in a public service message to be broadcast by China’s leading television stations beginning this month.

China’s rapid economic development continues to build a burgeoning middle class that can afford—and is demanding in greater quantities— endangered wildlife products, such as ivory. The current demand for ivory is estimated to claim the lives of as many as 35,000 African elephants annually.

“The demand for illegally traded ivory negatively impacts Africa’s tourism industry and reportedly contributes to funds used by terror and insurgent groups,” said WildAid’s Executive Director Peter Knights.

WildAid spearheaded a campaign in 2006 to reduce the demand for shark fin soup in China. Through its partnership with Save the Elephants and the African Wildlife Foundation, similar public awareness tactics are being used to inform consumers of the impact of ivory demand.

“As the largest ivory market in the world, China has a significant role to play in combatting the illegal trade in ivory,” said African Wildlife Foundation CEO Patrick Bergin. “We commend the Chinese government for taking this important first step and hope it signals their sincere and growing commitment to help end the elephant slaughter in Africa.”

Recent surveys indicate a large portion of China’s population is unaware of the death toll to create ivory and rhino horn products, yet a greater number of residents support government enforced bans. (Read the ivory and rhino horn surveys.)

“Excess demand for ivory is the root of the elephant poaching crisis. All other efforts to stop the killing of elephants will be useless if the world doesn’t stop buying ivory. China’s leadership could save Africa’s elephants,” said Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, CEO of Save the Elephants.

For photos and the original link to this article, see the following link: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151800094881316.1073741842.71393981315&type=1

Zhangjiang Customs Officials Seized 10 Smuggled Elephant Tusks (China)

Jiayu Guan, Zhaoying Li, Wen Huang, Guangzhou Daily

September 5, 2013
Zhangjiang, Sept. 5 (gdzjdaily)—Zhanjiang Customs announced yesterday that 10 elephant tusks weighing 78 kilograms were seized.

Working on a tip-off, authorities of Zhanjiang Customs set up a specialist checkpoint to seize the shipment of the ivory tusks. At 23 p.m., a SUV with consignment drew attention from the officials. The customs officials carefully scrutinized the suspicious SUV and found the ivory tusks, weighing 78 kilograms in total. The ivory tusks were not declared on the manifest and were seized by customs officials for further investigation.

According to customs officials, the vehicle was an ordinary family SUV, in which the ivory tusks were packed in fibre bags hidden in the trunk. The driver of the vehicle was arrested. It’s difficult to tell by the look of the car, since there was a woman sitting in the passenger seat holding a baby.

Since last year, the Customs has delivered a series of enforcement strategy that targets anti-smuggling activity to combat illegal imports of wildlife products. The customs officials have seized 59 landscape trees, 49 varanidaes and 718 siamese crocodiles which listed in “First Category of National Key Protected Wildlife Species”. It is the first time since the foundation of Zhanjiang Customs Anti-smuggling Bureau that they have seized elephant tusks. Further investigation in this case is still ongoing.

Article at the following link: