Tag Archives: ivory sales

Retail giant Wing On lauded over move to ban ivory sales (Hong Kong)

Danny Lee, South China Morning Post

27 April, 2014Danny Lee, South China Morning Post

27 April, 2014Retail giant Wing On is banning ivory sales in its stores, in a move hailed as another significant victory in the battle against elephant poaching.

The department store chain has won praise from campaigners for its decision to kick out a tenant that sells products made from elephant tusks.

“With effect from July 7, the business co-operation between Wing On Department Stores and its concession counter, which sells ivory products, will be ceased,” the company said.

Wing On has faced pressure from campaigners since pictures emerged online of a newly renovated ivory sales counter, offering carvings and ornaments, in one of its five Hong Kong stores.

“This is a most important decision. Thank you for this farsighted decision. And thank you in the name of the elephants,” campaigner Birgit Hanan wrote on Wing On’s Facebook page.

Local environmentalists welcomed the retail giant’s move, saying it bolstered efforts to counter demand for ivory, especially from the mainland, where it is a status symbol and sometimes known as “white gold”.

Wing On’s move follows the Hong Kong government’s decision in January to burn almost all of its 30-tonne ivory stock, built up through customs seizures since 1976. “[Our decision is based on] the way we work – always reviewing what we are doing and what the community wants from us,” Wing On executive director Mark Kwok Chi-yat told the Sunday Morning Post.

Campaign group Hong Kong for Elephants co-founder Alex Hofford said Wing On’s move was another victory, but that more work was still needed to stop the sale of “blood ivory”.

“Obviously we are delighted that Wing On has seen fit to turn its back on the dirty ivory trade by joining a growing list of stores in Hong Kong that take their corporate social responsibilities seriously,” Hofford said.

“Wing On definitely deserves a pat on the back,” animal-rights activist and actress Sharon Kwok Sau-wan said.

Activists are now set to turn their attention to Yue Hwa Chinese Products, the last big player in the ivory trade, with a protest scheduled for May 14 at its six-storey emporium in Jordan.

While the sale of ivory remains legal in Hong Kong, buyers are not allowed to take it out of the city. But undercover reporters caught Yue Hwa staff apparently discussing how to flout the export ban.

Kwok said a steady flow of mainland buyers were coming to Hong Kong to seek out authentic ivory products. She called for action against “small stores and ‘holes in the wall’ that are still blatantly selling ivory”.

Wildlife groups fear smugglers are using increasingly sophisticated techniques to import and export elephant ivory. Kwok says elephant products are being passed off as mammoth ivory – which is legal to trade – when obtaining customs paperwork.

“It would be great if Hong Kong could ban the ivory trade altogether. It is such a small market,” she said.

One of the last remaining traditional department store chains in Hong Kong, Wing On operates stores in Sheung Wan, Jordan, Tsim Sha Tsui, Taikoo Shing and Discovery Bay. But the retail giant’s business has in recent years been squeezed by upscale malls and luxury goods outlets.

The ivory trade has become increasingly lucrative since a worldwide ban was imposed in 1989.

Last year, the Chinese Arts and Crafts chain put a 65kg pair of tusks on sale for HK$15 million – more than 50 times the price it asked for a bigger pair of tusks in 2002. The state-owned chain has since withdrawn ivory from sale in its Hong Kong stores.

 

New York State to Hold Hearing on Ivory Trade

Wildlife Conservation Society
December 19, 2013

Assembly Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation Will Examine Effectiveness of New York Restrictions on Ivory Sales

Hearing will take place Thursday, January 16, in Manhattan

New York is the largest market for ivory in the U.S.

96 Elephants are killed every day by ivory poachers

Newswise — NEW YORK (December 19, 2013) – The New York State Assembly Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation announced a public hearing on ways to improve the effectiveness of the state’s laws and regulations protecting endangered species and restricting the sales of ivory.

The hearing will take place on Thursday, January 16 at 11 a.m. at the Assembly Hearing Room, 250 Broadway, Room 1923, 19th Floor, in Manhattan.

Despite the existing legal protections, New York has become one of the leading destinations in the United States for illegal ivory. In 2012, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, in conjunction with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, seized more than $2 million worth of elephant ivory in New York City.

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) estimates that 96 elephants are killed each day in Africa, translating into one elephant death every fifteen minutes and a 76 percent population decline since 2002.

Assemblyman Robert K. Sweeney, Chair of the New York State Assembly Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation said, “Elephants are a social, smart and peaceful animal whose existence has special protections under the law. Poachers have been illegally killing African elephants for years, bringing them to the brink of extinction. It’s disturbing that New York has become one of the main points of entry for the illegal ivory trade. Not only does this illegal market cause further destruction to an endangered species, but some of the proceeds of the trade go to fund terrorism. I have called this hearing to learn how New York State can help put a stop to these reprehensible actions.”

John Calvelli, WCS Executive Vice President for Public Affairs, said, “The New York seizure is evidence of a disturbing fact: there is a direct link between the illegal ivory trade in New York State and the slaughter of elephants in Africa. We are extremely grateful that the New York State Assembly Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation, under the leadership of Chairman Sweeney, is taking the illegal ivory trade in New York so seriously.”

Elephants are killed primarily for their ivory tusks which are used predominantly in carved art and jewelry. Ivory sales are regulated by a complex web of international, federal and state laws and treaties. In New York, ivory sales are regulated pursuant to Environmental Conservation Law §11-0535 which is based in part on the inclusion of elephants on the federal endangered species list in the 1970’s.

In September, WCS launched its 96 Elephants campaign to amplify and support the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) commitment to save Africa’s elephants by stopping the killing, stopping the trafficking, and stopping the demand. The WCS campaign focuses on: securing effective U.S. moratorium laws; bolstering elephant protection with additional funding; and educating the public about the link between ivory consumption and the elephant poaching crisis.

Ivory stockpile to be publicly destroyed as Obama seeks to end illegal trade

Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
10 November 2013

The ivory stockpile in the secure government warehouse – six tonnes of scarred tusks, glossy Confucius statuettes with $10,000 (more than £6,000) price stickers, coffee table items, and too many chunky cuff bracelets to count – represents millions of dollars and the slaughter of thousands of African elephants.

On 14 November, at Barack Obama’s instruction, and in front of visiting dignitaries and television cameras, every last intricately carved and high-dollar item will be fed into the jaws of an industrial strength rock-crushing machine and smashed to splinters.

The hope is that this public act of destruction will serve as a turning point. White House officials and conservation groups calculate that demonstrating the president’s commitment to breaking up the illegal ivory trade will persuade other governments to take similar measures, and help put the wildlife traffickers on the run.

But it may be too late. Two decades after an international ban on ivory sales, an explosion in wildlife trafficking has once again brought African elephants to the brink of extinction. Nearly 100 African elephants are killed every day for their tusks to feed a huge demand for ivory trinkets from newly wealthy buyers in Asia who see ivory as a status symbol.

US security officials say the global trade in illegal ivory has grown to $10bn (about £6.2bn) a year – just behind drugs and human trafficking. The huge profit potential has also turned ivory into an important line of financing for terrorist networks such as al-Shabaab, the al-Qaida affiliate that carried out September’s attack on the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi.

“This is not the kind of poaching that we have dealt with in the past,” said Dan Ashe, the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency leading the US fight against wildlife trafficking. “It’s syndicated and sophisticated criminal organisations that are driving the trade.”

The grisly results are visible in the vast storehouse outside Denver – ordinarily off-limits to the public – where six tonnes of ivory seized by US law enforcement officials over the past 25 years is heaped among stuffed tigers, caiman ashtrays, and other artifacts of the illegal wildlife trade.

The smuggled ivory was seized by US agents at airports and cargo ships, hidden in the false bottoms of suitcases and shipping crates, buried in jars of face cream, or disguised by being stained dark brown with tea. Some of the ivory – the big display case of bracelets – made it as far as a jewellery shop off Times Square in New York city, before it was seized by agents.

“There could be several hundred elephants represented on this pallet alone,” said Bernadette Atencio, the supervisor of the US Fish and Wildlife repository.

America is one of the top destinations of illegal ivory from Africa, as well as an important transhipment point for the carved ivory trinkets bound ultimately for the leading markets in China, Japan, Thailand and other Asian countries.

But the six-tonne haul is only half that seized in China this week alone – 3,1888 pieces of elephant tusks were found in Xiamen city, with an estimated value of 603m Yuan ($99m or £62m) on the black market. The sheer volume of trade is depleting populations of African adult male elephants, Atencio said, reaching for a polished tusk, carved with renderings of the “big five” in African game.

“I think the baby tusks are the most heartbreaking,” she said. “What I see here are lost generations of elephants, many many generations of elephants that will never be because these elephants were not allowed to mature and to reach an adult size.

By ordering the destruction of the ivory haul in Denver, American officials hope to send a definitive message to traffickers that the bottom is about to fall out of the ivory trade, and that there is no use hanging on to stores of ivory, because it will eventually end up being destroyed.

The strategy has been endorsed by leading conservation groups, such as the World Wildlife Fund, and wildlife officials in Kenya and other states which depend on African elephants for their tourism industries.

“It does send a signal that ivory is not going to be a good investment for very much longer,” said Allan Thornton, who heads the Environmental Investigation Agency.

US diplomats are now reaching out to other governments to carry out similar high-profile acts of destruction. Kenya has destroyed its stores of illegal ivory in the past. The Philippines carried out a crush earlier this year.

The Obama administration is stepping up aid and training for park rangers in Africa to try to stop the traffickers on the ground. The Clinton Global Initiative has also aligned with the US government efforts, with Hillary Clinton in September announcing an $80m initiative to train park rangers and sniffer dogs at 50 poaching hot spots across Africa.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is promising to strengthen penalties against those caught smuggling ivory, a White House adviser said. “The laws need to be changed. They need to be stiffened,” said David Hayes, a former deputy secretary of interior who was appointed last September to a new White House council on wildlife trafficking. “I think that’s going to be a primary focus for the advisory council – enforcement penalties, and what we allow and what we don’t.”

The push to end trafficking comes at a desperate time for African wildlife, with rhinos and elephants under threat from mass poaching gangs. The explosion in poaching threatens to reverse a conservation successory story, with African elephants showing signs of a comeback after a 1990 ban on ivory sales.

But conservation groups say that positive outcome was undermined by a misguided decision by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), the entity set up to protect at-risk wildlife, to allow limited sales of ivory. In 1997, Zimbabwe was granted permission to conduct a limited sale of 50 tonnes of ivory. In 2008, China was also allowed to import 60 tonnes of ivory. The idea was to slake the demand for ivory among the newly wealthy elites of China. But the result was a catastrophe for African wildlife, said Paula Kahumbu, chief executive of Wildlife Direct. “We have seen in Kenya an eight-fold increase in poaching since 2009,” she said. “The volume of ivory being taken across the country is just staggering.”

Campaign groups said the combination of new buying power in Asia – where there is a surge in demand for ivory – and armed groups was overwhelming poorly paid and trained rangers in African wildlife parks.

A new breed of traffickers, armed with night-vision goggles and high-powered rifles, began staging mass attacks – such as last September’s cyanide poisoning of 300 elephants at a Zimbabwe watering hole.

What put elephants on the top of the US agenda however was terrorism. Over the past few years, US intelligence officials have accumulated evidence that wildlife trafficking is funding rebel armies and causing instability in Africa.

US security officials and campaign groups have said the militant group al-Shabaab was getting up to 40% of its funds from the illegal wildlife trade, with ivory financing their operations and paying their footsoldiers, by acting as middlemen in the wildlife trade.

The result is a grisly kill-to-order system, with brokers paying poachers as little as $20 a pound for the raw tusks, and selling them onwards for as much as $800 a pound in some parts of Asia. Finished pieces sell for up to $4,000 a pound.

By last year, Clinton, then secretary of state, was so concerned about the links with terrorist groups that she designated wildlife trafficking a national security threat. Barack Obama during a visit to Africa in July also pledged action against the traffickers.

On 14 November, the international community – and the traffickers – will witness the first instalment of Obama’s anti-trafficking plan. It’s far from certain, though, whether Obama will be able to pull African elephants back from the brink, yet again.

“I believe that the scope and impact of the poaching crisis has now reached the highest levels of the US government,” said John Webb, a former Department of Justice environmental prosecutor who is also a member of the new White House advisory council. “But, unfortunately, I think it’s going to take a huge effort to turn it around this time.”