Tag Archives: Phillipines

Reporting on the Ivory Trade in Angola: Will the Nation’s Entry to CITES Make a Difference?

By Elena Bersacola and Magdalena Svensson, A Voice for Elephants, National Geographic

January 30, 2014

Destruction of stocks of illegal ivory has been prevalent news in the media lately.

Most recently it was Hong Kong announcing the intention to crush 28 tons of its illegally smuggled ivory to show support for the fight against wildlife trafficking.

This comes soon after China, the United States, and the Philippines held similar ivory destruction ceremonies, each eliminating between five and six tons.

The first conviction of its kind in China occurred in May 2013, when a court sentenced a licensed dealer to 15 years in prison after he was found importing and selling illegal ivory products.

While this is encouraging news and shows promising signs from authorities, especially in China, the world’s largest ivory importer, it is far from the full story.

Just a week after the ivory destruction ceremony in China, a report on the ivory trade near the Chinese border in Myanmar was made public by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network. The TRAFFIC team discovered large quantities of mainly African ivory on sale in the market town of Mong La. The team, including our colleague Professor Vincent Nijman, found some 3,300 pieces of carved ivory and close to 50 raw ivory elephant tusks.

We made similar observations in September last year, when we traveled to Angola as part of a team from the UK-based Nocturnal Primate Research Group to survey nocturnal primates and other mammals in the northwest.

When moving between field sites, we observed a thriving bush meat trade. These observations prompted us to look more closely at the Angolan wildlife trade. We therefore decided to visit one of the largest craft markets in Luanda, the Benfica Mercado do Artesano.

Angola’s Benfica Market

Walking up to Benfica Mercado do Artesano, it was hard to imagine the buzzing commerce that occurred under the rusty tin roof. What we saw first, just outside the market, were several leopard skins hanging off the beams, right next to the busy road. The fact that a protected species was on display so visibly was a gruesome precursor of what was inside the market.

When we entered the market, we saw many wooden sculptures, paintings, colorful fabrics, and other craft products.

We soon realized that there were also a great amount of animal products for sale. These included marine turtle shells, many decorated with bright paintings or carvings, animal skins, teeth, and horns, and even the odd parrots and a blue monkey.

Ivory, Ivory, and More Ivory

Most shocking in Benfica was the staggering amount of ivory on offer, confined to a section containing some 30 tables. Elephant ivory was the most abundant product on sale, with a wide variety of items, including 50 raw tusks, 162 carved sculptures in all shapes and sizes, as well as 2,000 or more small objects. The ivory carvings took all forms, from large amounts of chopsticks and necklaces to bangles, name seals, rings, combs, knives, and earrings.

Prior our visit, there had been one report on the ivory trade in Angola, conducted by T. Milliken and colleagues in 2006 (“No Peace for Elephants,” TRAFFIC, Cambridge).

Like us, they found a significant and open ivory trade at the Benfica market, but ivory was also displayed for sale in several other locations in Luanda, including at five three and four star hotels and several shops, clearly targeting foreign buyers.

Where Is This Ivory Coming From?

In Angola, forest elephants are found only in Cabinda, an enclave situated between Congo and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Savanna elephants are present in the northeast and southern regions, as well as in Kissama National Park just south of Luanda, where the population is estimated at 86 individuals, including translocated elephants from Botswana.

In 2007, the IUCN Species Survival Commission estimated the population of savanna elephants in Angola at about 1,700 individuals. But this estimate came from only 5 percent of the total possible range in Angola. Considering that at present we know virtually nothing about the elephant population in most of the animals’ range in Angola, the impacts of the illegal ivory trade could be of catastrophic dimensions.

Oddly, the size and shape of the tusks in Benfica suggest that most of that ivory was likely to have originated from forest elephants rather than the surrounding savanna elephants.

In their report, Milliken and his colleagues reasoned convincingly that the source was probably the northern neighboring countries of Congo and DRC.

Forest elephants throughout Central Africa have suffered a serious decline during the past decade, with the most catastrophic drop occurring in DRC (Maisels et al 2013).

DRC represents the most extensive forested area in Central Africa, and it was formerly the country with the largest number of forest elephants. Now forest elephants in DRC are found at very low densities in merely 5 percent of the total forested area.

If the Benfica ivory did indeed come from DRC, Angola would be directly contributing to the imminent extinction of the remaining forest elephant populations in DRC.

And Where Does the Ivory Go?

What was rather evident when we looked through the ivory in Benfica was that much of it was intended for an Asian clientele. There were many Buddha and dragon figurines, chopsticks, and typical Asian name seals. We also saw objects with Asian-like carvings, although they weren’t executed with the particular details typically seen in Asian sculpture.

In August last year more than a hundred kilograms (268 pounds) of ivory obtained in Angola were confiscated in Bangkok. That ivory appeared to be destined for Cambodia.

The Angolan illicit ivory trade routes are therefore likely to implicate a large number of countries, extending from the Congo Basin as far as East and Southeast Asia.

Will Angola’s Membership In CITES Help?

At the time of our survey, Angola was the only elephant range country that was not a signatory to CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

The country did agree to partake in ETIS, the Elephant Trade Information System, which tracks the global trade in ivory, partly by analyzing seizure data from participating countries. Angola, however, has never submitted any reports to ETIS, suggesting that law enforcement with respect to ivory trade is absent.

In October 2013, one month after our visit, it was announced that Angola would become the 179th party to join CITES, in force at the end of December 2013.

Although this entry to CITES gives a glimmer of hope, it is hard to predict the real effect it will have on the national and international ivory trade.

At present Luanda represents a key intercontinental transit location for large-scale illegal ivory trading.

The Angolan authorities are now urged to overturn Luanda’s current role in the illicit trade by increasing law enforcement significantly and reporting fraudulent activities to international bodies. Specific controls at the airports could also play a great part in discouraging people from buying ivory and could raise awareness about the severity of this problem.

With a background in art and an MSc in Primate Conservation, Elena Bersacola is currently carrying out research on primates and ungulates in Africa and Southeast Asia. Magdalena Svensson has an MSc in Primate Conservation and has for the last seven years studied nocturnal mammals in Africa and the Neotropics.

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.

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.

U.S. Ivory Crush Should Be Just a First Step

Bryan Christy, National Geographic
November 12, 2013

This Thursday, the United States government will destroy nearly six tons of ivory, which represents a good portion of the ivory the U.S. has seized since the late 1980s, when a national ban on commercial African ivory imports went into effect.

It will be a symbolic act. But symbolism matters.

Ivory destruction ceremonies have been a litmus test for where a country stands on the ivory trade ever since Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi torched 13 tons of ivory in 1989, setting the stage for a vote to ban international trade in ivory by parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

That ban went into effect in 1990. Six months later, the U.S. ivory market collapsed.

With no international market, it might have been reasonable for all CITES parties to destroy their ivory stocks after the 1990 international ivory ban took effect.

But the ban did not last. In 1999 and again in 2008 parties to CITES voted to allow ivory sales.

The first sale was of 55 tons to Japan and the second, of 115 tons to Japan and China.  In the wake of the China sale, elephant poaching and ivory trafficking have boomed. So has the need for international action.

Last year, Gabon burned 4.8 tons of ivory. Earlier this year the Philippines became the first non-African country to destroy its ivory stocks when it crushed five tons of ivory.

Each was an act by a relatively poor country sacrificing a potential asset for principles that go beyond money. “The Philippines will not be a party to this massacre, and we refuse to be a conduit to this cycle of killing,” Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon Paje said last summer, when his country crushed its ivory.

But not all ivory destructions are alike.

One of the most amazing things about the African elephant is its ability, despite its immense size, to blend in with its surroundings. Just meters away, even seasoned scouts can overlook an elephant.

So, too, does the language surrounding the elephant’s protection easily conceal the size and nature of the ivory trafficking problem.

The United States banned the import and export of African ivory in 1989 but it did not ban its domestic sale. So ivory continues to be openly available for sale in luxury shops just off Madison Avenue in New York City, just as it is in San Francisco and other American cities. (See pictures of the ivory trade around the world.)

As recently demonstrated by criminal cases in New York and Philadelphia, America’s legal ivory market has offered an incentive for ivory smugglers.

In 2012, New York state announced guilty pleas by two ivory dealers. In 2011, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) agents raided the African art store of Philadelphia African art dealer Victor Gordon, seizing an estimated ton of ivory from his facilities and his customers. (According to USFWS officials, Gordon’s ivory is considered evidence and is not part of the ivory to be destroyed this week.)

But it would be a mistake to think ivory trafficking to the United States compares in any meaningful way to ivory smuggling to China.

U.S. Customs and USFWS inspectors are among the most respected border patrollers in the world and have only interdicted a total of six or so tons of ivory since 1989.

It’s not been surprising to find that amount of ivory in a single illegal shipment or two bound for China. In 2011 alone, 46.5 tons of illegal ivory were seized, much of it headed for China.

In choosing to destroy its national ivory stock a quarter century ago, Kenya took a big risk. Its ivory burn put that country in conflict with its southern neighbors who wanted to expand the ivory trade, and it cost Kenya a lot of potential revenue.

But Kenya made a calculation that tourism for live elephants was more valuable than trinkets from dead ones. In destroying its ivory stocks this week, the United States has much less at stake than Kenya did in 1989, or even than Gabon or the Philippines did more recently.

“We hope this is only the beginning and as a next step the U.S. bans its domestic ivory trade,” said Paula Kahumbu, director of Kenya-based Wildlife Direct. “Every single thing that demonstrates individual or national responsibility is a step in the right direction.”

When it comes to today’s ivory trade, one important resource the United States has that other countries don’t is its economic relationship with China. Unlike the U.S., China’s government seeks to expand its domestic ivory trade and to import more ivory from Africa.

Law enforcement in Asia and Africa is inadequate to stop ivory trafficking syndicates. So calling upon China and other countries to ban the domestic sale of ivory and to join the U.S. would be an even more meaningful expenditure of American political capital.