Tag Archives: IFAW

Trafficking banned wildlife products moves onto social media: report (China)

Global Times
December 8, 2014
 Wang Hongjun (pseudonym), a 32-year-old businessman from Zhejiang Province in the auto industry, is busy chatting with a supplier on his WeChat account.
On the other end of the chat is not an automotive supplier but an ivory trader.
“I just ordered an ivory ring for my mother for 6,390 yuan ($1,038) from Guizhou Province. It was just like normal online shopping,” Wang said.
A recent survey conducted by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) found that social networking platforms are becoming increasing popular for illegal trading protected animals and their derived products, such as ivory, adding to the already substantial difficulties facing China in its fight against wildlife trafficking.
Online trend
The IFAW study of wildlife trading online, conducted during early 2014, monitored 280 websites across 16 countries for six weeks.
The organization targeted protected species listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
The survey found a total of 33,006 endangered animal bodies and products for sale worldwide, with an estimated worth of about $11 million.
Twenty-one Chinese websites were monitored, with more than 18,590 items found on sale worth a total of $2.74 million. More than 78 percent were ivory products, according to the study’s report, entitled “Wanted — Dead or Alive, Exposing the Online Wildlife Trade” published by the IFAW on November 25.
The IFAW pointed out that a shift away from selling wildlife products via e-commerce to online forums and social media, such as Baidu Tieba and WeChat, has become a new trend.
The IFAW claimed that 55 percent of the items on sale in China were found on Baidu Tieba, which saw 1,154 listings recorded during the survey.
The ivory trade is permitted inside China, but only from a quota of 102 tons was permitted to purchase under a 2007 agreement meant to regulate the trade internationally. Chinese regulations require that every ivory carving company must obtain a license from the authorities and must employ at least one government-approved carving master. Regulations also require that every ivory product weighing more than 50 grams must be documented with photos and a certificate.
There are currently 37 licensed carving companies and 145 sales companies. Sales by other companies and individual are illegal.
Trading under an alias
A search for the Chinese term for ivory on Baidu Tieba, an online forum run by the Baidu search engine, yields a message saying “Under applicable laws and regulations, there are no results to display. Buying is killing, say no to ivory.”
But buyers and sellers never use the Chinese word for ivory, xiangya. Ivory is normally called “xy,” “xya” or “white plastic” online. “It has as many as 17 aliases online,” Wang said. An online forum on Baidu Tieba, named Xya, has 311 registered members and nearly 1,300 posts, with many trading information or pictures of ivory products.
A seller, known as Shenyubaby online, told the Global Times reporter posing as a buyer that he has sold four ivory items in the past two months online.
“First, I post advertisements on online forums or chat groups. Then buyers would contact with me via WeChat for details, such as price,” said the seller who claimed to have a stock of ivory in Fujian Province originally imported from Africa.
The seller sent 12 pictures of ivory products to the Global Times, ranging from raw ivory to accessories carved from ivory. They cost 36 to 100 yuan per gram.
“We can [meet] face-to-face but I also can send the goods to you. It’s safe and the express company will not check,” the seller said.
A dozen sellers reached by the Global Times seemed to do their business in similar ways.
One seller, surnamed Li, told the Global Times that they used to do their business on Taobao but had to shift to social networking platforms after the e-commerce site blocked his online shop, with many keywords related to the trade also blocked.
“WeChat and other social networking platforms are more private as we can talk to the buyers directly. It not easy for the authorities to find us since we don’t need to submit our personal information for account registration,” Li said.
Baidu shut down 24 online forums related to trafficking of endangered species in March 2012, according to Legal Weekly. However, the IFAW pointed out the situation has not improved greatly since then.
The use of aliases makes it difficult for authorities to chase or block the trade, said the report.
Seeking solutions
Wang Juan, a project director with the IFAW, told the Shanghai-based news portal thepaper.cn that social networks should take responsibility for cracking down on such sales.
The proprietors of social networks should develop techniques to filter and ban keywords related to the trade of protected animal products and warn their users, Wang said.
The IFAW suggested that government authorities need to introduce specific supervision of trading on social networks while better supervising logistics companies, Wang added.
China’s Criminal Law allows for sentences of up to five years’ imprisonment for trafficking or purchasing protected wildlife.
However, in order to tackle the new challenges posed by social media, officials and legal experts have asked for an amendment to the country’s animal protection law and related clauses in the Criminal Law.
“Legislation is the key to effectively supervising those websites and the logistics industry,” Zhang Libao, a senior official from the forest public security bureau under the State Forestry Administration, was quoted by the Beijing Daily.
Although China has been frequently criticized for its incompetence in stopping ivory smuggling and driving the illegal ivory trade through soaring demand, the country has stepped up efforts to regulate the ivory market and fight poaching.
On January 6, Chinese government destroyed 6.1 tons of confiscated ivory in Dongguan, Guangdong Province, a first for the Chinese mainland.
Authorities also released information showing that China has investigated 930 criminal cases involving smuggling endangered species in the past decade, arresting and prosecuting 1,395 suspects.

Trade in illegal animal products runs wild online (China)

WantChinaTimes.com
November 30, 2014
Online forums and social networking apps have become the primary platform in China for trade in items made with parts of endangered animals, including ivory and rhino horn, according to a report published by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) on Nov. 25.
During a six-week period between March and April, the IFAW recorded 9,482 online messages in 16 countries on the trade of endangered species and related products, which are banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Of these, 2,106 messages advertising the sale of 18,590 banned items, amounting to more than 16 million yuan (US$2.6 million), were recorded in China, the IFAW report said.
The IFAW’s Wang Juan pointed out that 79% of the messages in China advertised ivory and related products, while 8% of them referred to rhino horn.
Wang also told Shanghai-based news website the Paper that many of these correspondences used codes to avoid censorship, referring to ivory as “white plastics” and “X teeth” and to rhino horns as “black plastics” and “XJ,” which stands for Xi Jiao, rhino horn in Chinese.
Search engine Baidu’s Tieba forum is a major platform for the illegal trade of animal products, according to the IFAW, with many sellers believed to be the producers or wholesalers themselves.
The Paper even found photos of ivory and related products displayed in one of the forums of Baidu Tieba by owners planning to sell them.
The popular instant messaging and social networking app WeChat also offers a private and easy way for sellers to solicit buyers, since private groups can be set up online and only members can view the messages.
Wang urged auction websites and social networking service operators to enhance their censorship policies and warn users that trade of endangered animal products is illegal. He also suggested that they offer users a channel to report such activities.
In addition, the IFAW advised regulators to expand its monitoring mechanism of the Internet to instant messaging software such as QQ and WeChat.

 

Kenya: Fighting Wildlife Security Threats

BY STEVE NJUMBI AND PAULA KAHUMBU, 13 MARCH 2014 On 31st January 2014 the Cabinet Secretary for Water, Environment and Natural Resources, Professor Judy Wakhungu appointed a 15 person task force on wildlife security chaired by Ambassador Nehemiah Rotich. The overall purpose of the task force is to identify the security threats to wildlife and their habitats, and examine the effectiveness of existing protection measures for wildlife across the country. The mandate of the team is to examine security arrangements, including human resources and capacity, equipment and facilities, and it extends beyond current threats to include emerging challenges. The team will not restrict their investigations to KWS operations, but will also look at other agencies involved in jointly managed areas including forests, ports and private conservancies. They will evaluate anti-poaching systems funding, morale, and even the public image of state agencies. By expanding the mandate to include such diverse factors, in effect what this team is doing is a detailed risk assessment for wildlife. After three months of research, data gathering, public hearings, and meetings, the team will compile a report with appropriate recommendations on strategies to strengthen the security management of wildlife and their habitats, including systems re-engineering. Importantly, the task force has the flexibility to gather information in whichever way it may find most appropriate to get this work done. Given the enormity of the crisis facing elephants and rhinos in Kenya, where rhino poaching has doubled in the last 12 months, and Kenya’s rise to become the world’s No. 1 country for transit of ivory, the importance of this investigation can hardly be overstated. Once renowned worldwide as the country where elephants were best protected, Kenya is now at the bottom of the bucket. Poachers are in control of vast landscapes, rangers are ill equipped, ill paid, and demoralized; those rangers who still go out on patrol risk being killed. Land from parks is being grabbed for highways, bridges and cities, while habitats in buffer zones and wildlife corridors are being destroyed. At the rate we are going, Kenya could see herself being sanctioned by CITES within the year, and by 2030 we will only have 2 of the big five remaining. We need to turn the situation around, and we need to do it now.

The announcement of this task of force is hugely welcomed by Kenyans from all walks of life. By our reading, the work is not limited to addressing the security operations of the KWS, but the safety of our wildlife and whatever affects it. The task is huge and feels almost impossible, but the opportunity is equally monumental. The findings of this task force could provide the key evidence that is required to effect strategic changes in KWS and transform the prospects of wildlife in Kenya. This is why we are volunteering to assist the team. Despite an atmosphere of threats and intimidation in the past, we will face the panels, share information and ideas, and be part of a process that transforms not only our wildlife but our country. We therefore encourage anyone who cares about the future of Kenya to volunteer information that can help the Task Force in their work. With objective pubic involvement, the task Force can inject into Kenyans legitimate ownership and responsibility to transform KWS into the organization that delivers this change. Bold structural and strategic reforms are badly needed for KWS to be able to meet it’s conservation mandate in the 21 st Century. If there ever was a moment in time to be patriotic it is now. It’s not just because it’s the right thing to do, it’s also the right time to do it. We have a First Lady who speaks out, a supportive president who changes laws, an enthusiastic and competent Cabinet Secretary, a KWS that is willing to change, and a public who really do care. It is our belief that only Kenyans can turn around the fortunes of wildlife, and we are proud to be part of the team that will deliver that dream. By being fearless we hope to infect others with our courage and determination to make Kenya safe for wildlife the world’s No. 1 nature tourism destination. The views expressed are the writers’ own and do not reflect those of their organisations. Paula Kahumbu is the CEO of WildlifeDirect while Steve Njumbi is the head of programmes, International Fund for Animal Welfare.
The above article can be found in the following link: http://allafrica.com/stories/201403130799.html?page=2

Ivory is the real draw at Beijing centre

BY MALCOLM MOORE, LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH
FEBRUARY 11, 2014

With its sleek glass and wood exterior, the Tianya Antiques City is a temple to modern Chinese
craftsmanship. Inside, the traders sell their wares from boutique stalls more like museums than
markets – jade, emerald and coral.

But the real draw for visitors to the Beijing centre is also its most controversial: ivory.

As a high-level summit to combat wildlife trafficking and poaching opens in London Wednesday,
hosted by the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge, shifting Chinese attitudes toward
ivory will be one of the most important goals, given that it is the world’s most populous nation
with a strong appetite for elephant tusk.

It will not be easy, as Fu Junjun, who works at her father’s ivory shop in the 11-floor market,
testified. “The price of ivory keeps going up, and the government’s decision to destroy that ivory
stockpile actually helped us,” she said, referring to the recent crushing of about 5.5 tonnes by
Chinese authorities. “The smaller stores now find it harder to get a good supply, but bigger
stores like us have hardly felt any impact and it helped put the price up.”

Ivory is legal in China provided it comes from a government-registered dealer, and there
continues to be a significant demand – partly as an increasingly valuable commodity and partly
because, according to the principles of feng shui, ivory can “disperse misfortune and drive out
evil spirits”.

In 2008, the international community allowed four African countries – Namibia, Zimbabwe,
South Africa and Botswana – to sell their stockpiles of ivory to Japan and China for $15 million in
an attempt to control the slaughter of elephants.

All of the ivory available in China is technically supposed to have come from that auction, and
each carving carries its own certificate of provenance. But environmentalists warn that there is
rampant cheating in the system and that illegal ivory  is easily laundered. A survey by IFAW in
2011 found that, of 158 shops and carving factories in Beijing, Shanghai, Fuzhou and Guang-
zhou, 101 were not licensed, or were selling smuggled ivory.

At Panjiayuan, Beijing’s biggest curio market, dealers said they had no elephant tusk on offer.
But when asked if they wanted to buy an unlicensed piece of ivory, several asked to take a look.

“I have bought cheap ivory online,” said Xu Song, a 25-year-old carver. “I cannot say whether
they were smuggled or not, but they are cheap, so I suppose so.

“Perhaps the biggest legacy of the decision to allow ivory auctions is that it has convinced the
Chinese that ivory is no longer a desperately endangered commodity. I do not think the supply
of ivory is a problem. We have not really thought about it.”

On the upside, the Chinese have discovered a new commodity that is now rivalling elephant
ivory in desirability: woolly mammoth ivory. Each summer, hundreds of tusks are dug up in
Siberia and sent south for carving.

Article at the following link:
http://www.thestarphoenix.com/Ivory+real+draw+Beijing+centre/9493078/story.html

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.
Article at the following link:

Hong Kong a step closer to destroying ivory stockpile

Lana Lam, South China Morning Post
12 January, 2014

Hong Kong could be about to take the lead in the fight against elephant poachers and the criminal networks behind the illicit ivory trade by destroying its huge stockpile of the contraband, said the regional head of an influential wildlife conservation group.

The mainland’s decision last week to crush six tonnes of seized ivory may give Hong Kong the momentum it needs to follow through on its own proposal from two years ago to incinerate its 33-tonne stockpile, said Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

“Hong Kong has a very, very big role to play because if they destroy all 33 tonnes of ivory in its stockpile, it will be unprecedented, as that amount has never been destroyed,” Gabriel said.

Demand for ivory has soared in recent years, driven mainly by buyers in Asia, and mainland China in particular. It has led to a devastation of elephant populations not seen since the 1990s, when the problem prompted international action.

Images of ivory being destroyed in Dongguan last Monday sent ripples through the offices of the Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) in Hong Kong.

The department’s endangered species advisory committee is responsible for deciding what to do with the stockpile, said Gabriel, who on Friday discussed the issue with two officials.

“They want to destroy the stockpile but the final decision has to come from the committee,” she said. “They have to wait for them to meet, but we have collectively felt this momentum which was not there a year ago, so there is optimism.”

In 2012, the committee rejected a proposal from the department to destroy the city’s stockpile of seized ivory, arguing that it would be wasteful and the ivory should instead be kept for educational purposes.

The department accepted the committee’s recommendation last February, but committee chairman Paul Shin Kam-shing has previously said that he would be happy to return to the issue.

Gabriel said that time had come. “The momentum generated around the world is good and it sends a message to people everywhere that if they had any misgivings that destroying ivory is a waste, now they understand. Ivory is not art, it’s a life; that message is strong.”

She added: “It also takes the burden from having all this contraband which needs to be secured, stored and guarded because of its potential high value.”

The IFAW was part of an alliance of non-governmental organisations that oversaw the Dongguan action and is also working with the French government to destroy stockpiles.

An AFCD spokeswoman said it exchanged views on various conservation issues with NGOs from time to time. It was currently “reviewing the effectiveness of existing disposal measures”, which include donations to schools and universities.

In China, you don’t have to look far to find illegal ivory

Oscar Holland and Suia Chen, The Independent

January 1, 2014
The country accounts for 70 per cent of global ivory demand, but awareness is growing

Shopkeepers hunch over takeaway boxes at Beijing’s Dongfangbobao Market as sporadic lunchtime visitors wander between displays of jade, gold, bronze and bone curios. The market’s sleepy air belies its past as a dependable source of illegal ivory. Enquiries for “elephant teeth,” as it is known in Chinese, are now met with dismissive waves.

Antique dealer Ren Wenzhuo produces an intricately carved pendant from a glass display case before retrieving three more trinkets from a locked safe, each costing between 6,000 and 7,000 RMB (£607-708). But these small pieces, one of which allegedly dates from the 18th century, are of little concern to Chinese authorities. It is newly smuggled items that directly contribute to the decimation of Africa’s elephant population.

“We used to sell new ivory here but not any more,” says Ren. “Haven’t you seen the news? Ivory is like tiger skins; it harms animals.”

Dongfangbobao appears to be one of the latest targets of a reported government crackdown on illegal ivory marked by awareness campaigns in state-owned media, tougher sentences for unlicensed dealers and contraband seizures.

But the capital’s ivory shoppers need not look far for the coveted “white gold.”

Just over a mile north at Beijing Curio City, customers can find celestial scenes, imperial ships, and herds of water buffaloes carved from full-length elephant tusks. Accreditation certificates hang on the walls and each piece comes with a registration number.

By legitimising the sale of ivory sourced from natural elephant deaths, culls and police seizures, the registration system was introduced in 2004 to cut prices and profits in the black market. It has had the reverse effect. The wholesale price of ivory has tripled over the last nine years.

Legal retailers regularly use their businesses as a cover for unlawful sales. An investigation by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in 2011 found that almost 60 percent of authorised sellers and carving factories were involved in some form of laundering. Vendors regularly discourage customers from taking products’ identity cards and reuse them with illicit items.

Conservationists believe that the very existence of a licensed trade only serves to fuel demand in China, where ivory carving is considered a traditional art form. Revered as a status symbol by the country’s growing middle classes, ivory is also seen as a lucrative bet for investors facing diminishing returns on equity and real estate.

While the international ban in 1989 is widely credited with curtailing trade in the West, China is now the largest ivory market in the world and accounts for an estimated 70 per cent of global demand.

Its continued popularity may stem from a lack of knowledge about the scale and environmental impact of the trade, according to WildAid, the wildlife protection group behind a new awareness campaign. The organisation is using high-profile figures to highlight poaching and the quantity of illegal products in the Chinese market.

Fronting the campaign is former NBA basketball player and Olympic flag bearer Yao Ming, whose public influence in the recent campaign against shark fin soup has been widely lauded.

The drive appears to have yielded remarkable results. During this year’s Spring Festival, when shark fin soup is commonly eaten, the Chinese Commerce Ministry reported a 70 per cent drop in consumption compared with the previous year.

This success sets an encouraging precedent for ivory campaigners, according to WildAid’s chief representative in China, May Mei.

“Things move so quickly in China and as we are seeing with shark fin, it is possible to make a completely desirable product quickly unfashionable,” she says.

Mei also credits a government ban on the soup at official banquets with the turnaround in demand.

“If the government takes a strong stance on ivory, such as announcing no further legal imports or announcing a ban [on] officials giving ivory as gifts, the impact will be enormous,” she argues.

There have been promising signs from Chinese authorities. In the first conviction of its kind, a court in Fujian Province sentenced a licensed dealer found importing and selling illegal products to 15 years in prison in May.

Moves to curb illegal sales on unregulated online marketplaces have also seen the government ban all online wildlife trade and monitor key search terms. Conservation groups are working with search engine giant Baidu to purge illegal wildlife listings and shut down forums that facilitate black-market trade.

But with as many as 100 African elephants killed a day, attempts to tame this vast and elusive industry remain frustratingly, and perhaps fatally, slow. Although Illegal ivory is shrinking from view in markets like Dongfangbobao, its place in Chinese consumers’ eyes continues to pose the single greatest threat to the species’ survival.

Jail term and fines for smugglers ‘too lenient’

South China Morning Post
22 December, 2013

Wildlife conservationists slammed a four-month jail term and fines of up to HK$80,000 for five ivory smugglers from the mainland as “too lenient”, saying it will do little to stop the illicit trade.

“It is way too lenient because Chinese people buying illicit ivory in Africa know that if they are caught, at most they will just lose the ivory and get a puny fine,” said Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Since 2004, there have been 61 prosecutions against the illegal import of ivory by air passengers. Sentences ranged from two to eight months’ imprisonment or a fine of HK$2,500 to HK$80,000.

Earlier this month, 14 people were arrested at Chek Lap Kok airport after Customs seized 160kg of ivory tusks and carved ivory pieces in their checked-in baggage. The travellers were on three flights from  Dubai and Johannesburg. Seven of the accused – all from the mainland – faced Tsuen Wan Court last week, with five convictions. Two cases are still pending.

Yin Qun, 40, was jailed for four months for smuggling 48.4kg of worked ivory; Zeng Hongzhen, 29, was fined HK$30,000 for smuggling 11.26kg; and Zeng Hongjin, 24, got a HK$50,000 fine for smuggling 23.17kg. Two others, whose names are unknown, were fined HK$30,000 for smuggling 12.17 kg and HK$80,000 for smuggling 9.5kg. Xu Bin, 24, and Xu Kaiyi, 25 pleaded not guilty and will face trial next month.

The other seven travellers are still under investigation.

Gabriel said the high-profit and low-risk nature of the illicit ivory trade made it attractive to criminal gangs. “Unless the penalties are raised, it is not going to have a deterrent effect,” she said.

Tom Milliken, of the wildlife group Traffic, said while he welcomed the jail term as a deterrent, fines could be written off as “the price of doing business”.

Crush course

Alex Hofford, South China Morning Post
December 15, 2013

Thick clouds of fine, choking white dust fill the winter afternoon air as a giant rockcrushing machine rumbles on. Coughing and spluttering, I struggle to hold my gaze as the spectacle is lost behind swirling clouds.

A cascade of crushed ivory is spewed out by a giant blue machine used more often to crush stones to mix with bitumen than grind up parts of an endangered species from another continent.

Surrounded by conservationists and journalists looking on in deafened awe, wildlife officials in hard hats and highvisibility vests load an excavator with large pieces from a giant pile of elephant tusks and with carved ivory statuettes, trinkets and jewellery. The excavator shuttles back and forth, from tusk pile to rock crusher, feeding the metallic beast as it feasts upon what remains of countless herds of elephants.

This was the scene Hong Kong schoolgirls Lucy Skrine, 11, and Christina Seigrist, eight, hoped to witness in their hometown when they started a petition (bit.ly/BanHKIvoryTrade) through online activist network Avaaz in September to have the city’s stockpile of more than 33 tonnes of confiscated ivory destroyed. It was the scenario they wanted to achieve with the 10,000 signatures they asked for.

But this is not Hong Kong. The rock crusher is at work in Denver, Colorado, where it is crushing the United States government’s six-tonne stockpile of ivory seized from tourists and smugglers at the country’s land borders and airports since the 1980s.

Wildlife officials say it is hard to estimate exactly, but they believe the total being crushed here amounts to the tusks of between 1,000 and 2,000 elephants – a fraction of the number of dead animals represented by Hong Kong’s stockpile.

In June, the Philippine government crushed and burnt its five-tonne stockpile of confiscated ivory; and since 1992, three elephant range states in Africa – Zambia, Kenya and Gabon – have destroyed by incineration their seized ivory stockpiles. The five nations that have now destroyed their confiscated ivory stockpiles have (along with the Indian state of Maharashtra and France, which has just announced it is to follow suit) sent an unequivocal message to poachers in Africa, ivory dealers everywhere and consumers in China that the trade will not be tolerated by their governments.

“If Manila can do it, and Denver can do it, why can’t Hong Kong follow their lead?” asks Lucy.

The girls are protesting against what they describe as a brutal trade in blood ivory going on right under the noses of Hong Kong officials, because here the legal market for ivory has been providing cover for a parallel illegal market for decades. Retailers are allowed to sell ivory in Hong Kong as long as it has come from pre-1989-ban stocks or the 108 tonnes four African nations sold to China in 2008, and has been carved in the city. There is no way to ascertain whether a particular piece of ivory in a shop conforms to these stipulations or not, though.

Their petition captured the public imagination. Supporters joined forces to form Hong Kong for Elephants, an NGO whose members staged a vigil for the dead outside a Kowloon branch of Chinese Arts & Crafts – thought to be the city’s major ivory retailer – on October 4, as part of the International March for Elephants.

The demand for ivory in China is now so strong that poaching in Africa has reached unprecedented levels, with some conservationists warning that unless something is done – and fast – elephants will be extinct in the wild within a decade. The US government and conservation body WWF believe that about 36,000 elephants are being killed each year for their tusks. That’s a devastating 96 per day, or one every 15 minutes.

“By crushing its contraband ivory tusks and trinkets, the US government is sending a signal that it will not tolerate the senseless killing of elephants,” said WWF president and chief executive Carter Roberts in a US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) press release. “Other countries need to join the US, Gabon, Kenya and the Philippines to take a stand against the crime syndicates behind this slaughter.”

US Interior Secretary Sally Jewell echoes Roberts’ sentiments in the release: “Rising demand for ivory is fuelling a renewed and horrific slaughter of elephants in Africa, threatening remaining populations across the continent. We encourage other nations to join us both in destroying confiscated ivory stockpiles and taking other actions to combat wildlife crime.”

The logic behind the destruction of ivory is that, under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) agreement, any government-seized ivory would never be made available to the market, anyway. Therefore, its destruction sends a powerful message to traffickers while having no impact on the overall supply, and thus not creating an incentive for poaching.

One aspect of the stockpile crush in the US troubles some wildlife groups, however. The USFWS, which organised the Denver crush, stopped short of incineration, ostensibly out of concerns about emissions. So, in effect, it has left itself some unfinished business.

Wildlife officials are instead planning to give the crushed ivory to the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which will then divide it up and send it to member zoos across the country, to be made into elephant conservation memorials. In so doing, the USFWS will pass the security headache – and cost – of maintaining safe custody of the crushed ivory to individual zoos. Since ivory is worth even more than gold by weight, though, it’s hard to imagine how some pieces will not go missing in the process.

“The decision to donate crushed ivory to American zoos is misguided,” says Joyce Poole, co-director of ElephantVoices and a renowned Kenya-based elephant behavioural scientist and advocate. “A monument to slaughtered elephants to remind people of the terrible consequences of trading in the body parts of animals is important, but using elephant ivory is in bad taste. Would we use human body parts in a memorial to those men and women who have succumbed to war?

“Furthermore, the chunks of ivory are still large enough for criminals to remove and make into small items of jewellery for resale. The crushed ivory should be incinerated and put beyond reach.”

It is also not entirely inconceivable that the AZA may one day be the subject of a buyout similar to that in September of Smithfield, America’s biggest pork producer, which merged with Shuanghui, its counterpart in China. If the zoos association were to one day be rescued by a Chinese white knight, all its assets, including any elephant memorials made of crushed ivory, would probably become the property of the new owner, to do with as it pleased. It is therefore possible that, notwithstanding any of the trade bans currently being lobbied for in the US Congress, the market could become flooded with tiny gravel-sized trinkets, such as the ivory stud earrings that retail for HK$480 a pair in shops on Hollywood Road, made with the ivory crushed in Denver.

“If the crushed ivory ends up as small, usable, raw pieces, there is the risk that this can be reused and so, perhaps, a more thorough means of destruction such as incineration may be necessary,” says Sharon Kwok, a Hong Kong-based conservationist and executive director of the AquaMeridian Conservation and Education Foundation.

Other conservationists are satisfied to adopt a less purist approach, however. “Crushing is a symbolic measure,” says Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “[The actions of ] both the US and Philippines … are particularly important for Hong Kong, as Hong Kong is not just a pure consumer region, it’s a transit region as well. Hong Kong is a gateway for mainland China [and it] is really important for China to follow suit.

“If the Hong Kong authorities are able to incinerate the ivory without emissions, then sure, but if they are crushing it and we’re worried that the little bits and pieces will have nowhere to go, then maybe the officials can dump it in the sea when it is crushed. It can be done in really deep sea.”

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) has, in fact, already conducted a successful trial burn. Last year, it incinerated three tonnes of confiscated ivory in the extreme high temperature environment of the Tsing Yi Chemical Waste Treatment Centre. Not only did the trial burn give off zero emissions, it even generated power.

When asked, a department spokesman indicates that a Hong Kong crush is not entirely out of the question: “Since 2003, seizure of ivory amounts to about 32 tonnes, which makes up the bulk of the ivory stockpile in Hong Kong. The AFCD has been exploring destruction as a means to dispose of the confiscated ivory, [as] permitted under the Cites guidelines.

“When we come to a more concrete proposal, the Endangered Species Advisory Committee, a [local] statutory advisory body on protection of endangered species, will be consulted.”

All eyes in the elephant conservation world are now on Hong Kong – with its huge stockpile, will it crush, crush and burn, or do nothing?

Unfortunately, there seems to be a paralysis in the city. With awareness levels roughly where they were 10 years ago on the shark-fin issue, the current poaching crisis is just not on the radar of the average Hongkonger. Even WWF Hong Kong does not have an active ivory reduction campaign.

Activists fear that if Hong Kong, which plays a large role in the ivory trade – not only as a major transit point for the mainland but also as a large consumer in its own right – does not wake up to this pressing issue soon, it could be too late.

As Lucy and Christina’s petition approaches the 10,000-signature mark, another youngster, Hong Kong International School Year Six student Nellie Shute, 11, has also taken action.

Nellie successfully lobbied her school principal to return to the AFCD the ivory tusks and carved ivory pieces it had loaned to her school under what she believes is the misguided Endangered Species Specimen Donation Programme.

“The tusk and ivory carvings on display in my school were not educating students, they were reinforcing the idea that it’s acceptable to display ivory as artwork,” says Nellie. “Now my school has agreed to send them back with a petition signed by students asking for the ivory stockpile to be destroyed.

“I’m trying to make change because I refuse to believe that’s the future. I don’t want to tell the next generation that there used to be these magnificent creatures, but human greed ended their existence and we did nothing to stop it.”

On the subject of elephant conservation, it seems, Hong Kong’s schoolchildren are putting the city’s adults to shame.

Hong Kong’s ivory cache poses risk

KELVIN CHAN | Associated Press

December 2, 2013

HONG KONG – When Hong Kong intercepted yet another huge shipment of illegal African ivory in early October, it added to a growing headache for authorities: What exactly do you do with one of the world’s biggest stockpiles of elephant tusks?

Government warehouses in the former British colony are holding more than 30 metric tons of ivory seized since 2008, as customs agents intercept a surging amount of endangered animal products being smuggled to mainland China to meet demand from the country’s newly wealthy.

The latest shipment, 189 tusks worth $1.5 million hidden in soybean sacks in a shipping container, was one of four major busts this year.

Ivory is known as “white gold” because of the rich prices it commands on the black market. Hong Kong has put values of between $1,000 and $2,000 a kilogram on ivory it seized this year.

Conservation groups, worried the ivory pile presents a target for theft and fails to send a signal that Hong Kong is serious about cracking down on the trade, urge the government to destroy it. Authorities are resisting, instead preferring to dole out small amounts to schools to raise conservation awareness.

“As long as that ivory is kept anywhere, it will always be a temptation for people to get their hands on it,” said Grace Ge Gabriel, the fund’s regional director.

Samuel K. Wasser, director of the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington, calculated the illegal ivory trade was worth $264 million from 2000-2010. He said the amount now is likely to be far higher based on the soaring amount confiscated globally.

International Fund for Animal Welfare estimates 35,000 elephants a year are killed by poachers for ivory, risking extinction of the animal in the wild. Demand is fueled by China’s booming economy, which has created a vast middle class with the ability to buy ivory carvings prized as status symbols.

The United States last month destroyed more than 6 tons of ivory tusks, carvings and jewelry seized over 25 years and urged other nations to follow suit.

Hong Kong’s stockpile is several times bigger. Destroying it would be a mammoth task. The government won’t disclose the exact amount, though says the bulk of it is made up of 32.6 tons seized since 2003.

“It’s a financial burden on a country to keep such a stockpile,” said Gabriel, adding that ivory has been stolen from stockpiles in other countries.

Government officials say the Hong Kong stockpile is monitored by CCTV and security guards but won’t reveal its location for security reasons.

Members of a committee advising the government on endangered species are opposed to the destruction. According to minutes of a meeting last year, they worried it would be seen as wasteful and believed the best option was to donate small amounts to schools.

The government says it’s “exploring destruction” and will consult the committee when it has a concrete proposal.