China ivory prices triple, increase sanctions threat for implicated African countries

Asian country holds the key for the survival of the vulnerable mammal, campaign groups say

The price of African ivory in China, the world’s biggest market, has almost tripled over the last four years, new research funded by Save the Elephants showed, as three African countries are next week set to come under sharp focus over their progress in fighting poaching and illegal ivory trade. 

Researchers for the Kenya-based campaign group conducted a month-long survey of hundreds of Chinese retail outlets and factories in Beijing and Shanghai and contrasted their findings with prices they had established in Fuzhou four years previously. 

It was found that prices for raw ivory have risen stratospherically, further imperilling the vulnerable mammal.

“The average price paid by craftsmen or factory owners, for good quality, privately-owned 1-4kg elephant tusks in Beijing in early 2014 was $2,100 per kilogramme. The average price for similar tusks in 2010 was $750 per kg,” said Dr Esmond Martin, one of the researchers. 

Save the Elephants said that this surge in the price of ivory is driving a wave of killing of elephants across Africa and which shows little sign of abating. The group estimates that an average of 33,000 elephants were lost to poachers every year between 2010 and 2012.

The findings come as Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda are from July 7-11 set to be the subject of United Nations discussions in Geneva, Switzerland, over their progress in the fight against elephant poaching and illegal ivory trade within the last one year.

The three are among eight countries, known as the ‘gang of eight’, that will be under the spotlight at the 65th meeting of the Standing Committee of the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). 

Besides the three East African countries, the other countries of concern include China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Risk big sanctions
After being put on notice by the 16th CITES Conference of Parties in Bangkok, Thailand last year, all eight countries risk unspecified international sanctions - although it is believed these may refer to heavy trade sanctions on all wildlife products, including the lucrative orchid and crocodile skin industries. They were all required to take urgent measures to contain elephant poaching and ivory trafficking within a year. 

This week wildlife group TRAFFIC warned that Thailand’s ivory market had spiralled “out of control” and that the number of ivory products on sale in Bangkok had nearly trebled in the past year. 

The report found that the number of worked ivory products for sale rose from 5,865 in January 2013 to 14,512 by May 2014, while between January and December 2013, the number of ivory retail outlets rose from 61 to 105. 

It also provided evidence that the quantity of ivory found exceeds the limited supply available under current Thai legislation that allows sale of ivory from domesticated animals, meaning the vast majority of ivory being sold is illegal under international commitments.

Official loopholes
According to TRAFFIC, partly to blame for the current trafficking crisis is a 75-year old law that permits legal trade in ivory from domesticated Asian Elephants in Thailand. But with no registration system in place it is impossible to trace where the ivory came from, which has created a loophole for ivory from illegal sources to be laundered into the marketplace.

“Without concerted international action to reduce the demand for ivory, measures to reduce the killing of elephants for ivory will fail,” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants.

“Although half a world away, China holds the key to the future of the African elephant.”

The group has also tracked ivory sales within Africa, discovering that Lagos in Nigeria and Luanda in Angola have the largest numbers of ivory trinkets on open sale.

Organised crime syndicates and rebel militia are increasingly use poaching to fund insurgencies, reaping the benefits of the multi-billion-dollar demand for ivory in China.

“With the ivory price in Africa a tenth of that reached in China, substantial profits are being generated for organised crime that fuels insecurity, corruption, and deprives local communities of valuable income,” said Save the Elephants.

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