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3 tons of seized illegal ivory crushed in Paris

By LORI HINNANT

3 tons of seized illegal ivory crushed in Paris

PARIS (AP) — More than 3 tons of illegal ivory seized by French customs agents was pulverized into dust on Thursday in Europe’s first destruction of a stockpile of the banned elephant tusks.

The destruction of the ivory, confiscated over two decades, was designed to send a message to poachers and traffickers that preservationists hope will help stem the illicit trade that endangers the species’ survival. Other countries doing the same recently include the United States, Gabon and China, ivory’s biggest market.

“Customs seizures can vary from one year to the other — there is a lot of evolution in it — but one thing doesn’t change, that’s the consumer appetite for ivory,” said Sebastien Tiran, a customs agent at Paris’ Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport, where the bulk of the ivory was confiscated.

In 2012, an estimated 22,000 African elephants were poached for their tusks, according to a study prepared by CITES, TRAFFIC International and the SSC African Elephant Specialist Group.

The market price of ivory is more than $1,000 a pound ($2,200 per kilogram) and has more than doubled in the past five years, said Ginette Hemley, vice president of species conservation at the World Wildlife Fund.

Hemley supports the destruction of stockpiles, saying they send a powerful signal that governments will not tolerate or profit from illegal ivory. But she acknowledged that simply destroying seized stocks will not be enough to tamp down demand, which she said has grown exponentially since 2009.

“It’s not all going to happen overnight,” she said. But Hemley said when poached ivory was first banned in 1989, it took two or three years before prices dropped dramatically, as did the number of elephants killed for their tusks.

Prices rose again beginning a decade later, driven by demand in China, and the profits began attracting attention from criminal syndicates. Critics of the stockpile destructions say they can backfire by decreasing supply and raising prices.

“These burnings of stockpiles are actually attracting more criminals into it,” said Dan Stiles, a researcher in Kenya who studies the ivory trade and is a member of the African Elephant Specialist Group. “These people are speculators. They’re banking on extinction.”

The above article can be found in the following link: http://news.yahoo.com/3-tons-seized-illegal-ivory-crushed-paris-105553149.html

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.

Hong Kong to consider destroying 33-tonne ivory stockpile after Beijing crushes illegal tusks

Joanna Chiu, South China Morning Post
08 January, 2014

Pressure is building on Hong Kong to destroy its 33-tonne ivory stockpile after confiscated ivory was crushed on the mainland for the first time on Monday.

Hong Kong has previously rejected destruction as an option.

A spokeswoman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said it was “aware of steps in other places to destroy forfeited ivory” and was “reviewing the effectiveness of existing disposal measures”.

She said a revised proposal to destroy Hong Kong’s confiscated ivory would be discussed by the Endangered Species Advisory Committee (ESAC) on January 23.

In Dongguan , Guangdong, diplomats, media and international guests watched as two giant grinders destroyed 6.1 tonnes of ivory sculptures and raw tusks.

The move signalled the willingness of the mainland – the world’s largest ivory market – to play a greater role in wildlife protection. It followed a global conservation conference in March at which China and the United States co-sponsored measures to increase protection for more than 40 species, most of which are threatened by Chinese consumers’ tastes and eating habits.

Local activists welcomed Beijing’s actions and called on Hong Kong to follow suit.

“The time has come to destroy Hong Kong’s stockpile. This will send a strong message to poachers and smugglers that Hong Kong is not a viable trade route, and is a city keen to demonstrate leadership on conservation,” said Gavin Edwards, director of conservation at WWF-Hong Kong.

Hong Kong plays a role in the ivory trade both as a transit point for the mainland and as a consumer in its own right. Last month 14 people were arrested at Chek Lap Kok airport after customs officers seized 160kg of raw tusks and ivory products in their checked baggage.

As pressure builds on Hong Kong, conservationists worry that ESAC – a statutory advisory body made up of university researchers and businesspeople – will reject the proposal.

“The committee has discussed this issue already, but members of the committee have objected in the past,” said Alex Hofford, a campaigner for Hong Kong for Elephants. “However, I think there is still a good chance that the government will follow China on this as Hong Kong tends to follow China’s lead on policy matters.”

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department had conducted a trial in Tsing Yi in 2012 to destroy seized ivory and found incineration – rather than crushing the ivory – to be an effective method of disposal. It later dropped the idea because most of its advisers opposed it.

In June, the Philippines destroyed its five-tonne stockpile of confiscated ivory; and since 1992, three elephant range states in Africa – Zambia, Kenya and Gabon – have incinerated their own stockpiles.

James Compton, senior director at the wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic, said that while destroying stockpiles sent a strong message, governments could choose to hold seized ivory in secure storage.

He said governments choosing to do so should be careful to keep inventories to “provide assurances that ivory does not find its way back into illegal markets, further feeding illegal trade”.