Charging China demand drives deadly ivory trade


A staffer of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (DENR-PAWB) displays elephant tusks which were seized by Philippine customs authorities over a two-year period following failed smuggling attempts in the country, Wednesday September 26, 2012, in Quezon city northeast of Manila. The tusks are to be shipped back to their port of origin, mostly from Tanzania, for destruction. AP/Bullit Marquez

BEIJING—Surrounded by sculptures carved from the white tusks of African elephants — which are being slaughtered in their tens of thousands — Beijing saleswoman Chen Yu says the ivory trade is thriving.

“Business is good,” Chen said, pointing out a 1.2 million yuan ($200,000) ivory statue of Buddhist figure Guanyin, who is associated with compassion. “That’s one of our biggest sculptures… it was carved in Beijing,” she said.

Surging demand for ivory and rhino horn in Asia is behind an ever-mounting death toll of African elephants and rhinos, conservationists say, as authorities fail to rein in hugely lucrative international smuggling networks.

Policy-makers meet in Bangkok on Monday for the triennial meeting of signatories to the world’s most important agreement on wildlife trade, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) last week singled out Thailand, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo for tough sanctions to halt what one spokesman called “a poaching crisis… of the kind that we haven’t seen in a long time”.

WWF estimates that around 25,000 elephants were hunted for ivory in 2011, and predicts an even higher toll for 2012. There could be as few as 470,000 left, it says.

The situation facing rhinos — of which only about 25,000 remain in Africa — is also bleak, with a record 668 killed for their horns in South Africa alone in 2012, up nearly 50 percent from the previous year.

Activists report that hunting gangs in Africa slaughter entire herds of elephants, and dozens of rhinos, to feed smuggling chains which stretch to eager consumers in East Asia, all avoiding intervention by the authorities.

Experts are clear that most illegal ivory is headed to China, with some estimating the country accounts for as much as 70 percent of global demand.

“China is the leading end-use market for ivory in the world today,” Tom Milliken from the wildlife monitoring network TRAFFIC told Agence France-Presse.

China’s surging economy has created millions of wealthy consumers, many of whom are keen to buy ivory carvings — seen as a status symbol for centuries.

The price of ivory in China nearly tripled from 2006 to 2011, the Canada-based International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has said, making it an attractive investment and a valuable gift.

“Our customers don’t buy the sculptures for themselves — they are usually given as presents,” said Chen.

CITES banned the international trade in ivory in 1989 — a historic step which led to a drop in elephant killings.

But like other countries, China permits the resale of ivory bought before the ban — and also has a stockpile purchased with CITES approval in 2008, in an attempt to reduce the black market, which it releases for sale with certification.

Chen insisted that the ivory sold in her shop, plastered with signs warning buyers not to take their purchases out of the country, is entirely legal. “There are a lot of limitations on the trade,” she said.

But China’s legal ivory shops mask an illegal market which is six times larger, according to IFAW, which says that more than half of legal Chinese ivory stores also sell illegal products.

A thriving trade in uncertified ivory exists on Chinese websites, with thousands of products on offer, from necklaces to chopsticks.

Reports have also said that ivory gifts are favored by members of China’s military — hinting that official corruption is a key source of demand, as well as a barrier to cracking down on the trade.

“The main problem is law enforcement against illegal trade in ivory,” said Jianbin Shi, from WWF’s Beijing office. “China needs to increase law enforcement efficiency and effectiveness by increasing the rate of prosecution.”

China however defends its law enforcement efforts, which have resulted in several prison sentences for ivory smugglers.

Beijing “attaches great importance to the protection of endangered wildlife,” a foreign ministry spokeswoman said this week.

Ivory sculptures are also prized in Thailand, often as religious items sold to Buddhists, and ivory is openly available in tourist shops.

Conservationists last week urged Thailand to ban all ivory sales, and called for sanctions against the country unless it did so.

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, Vietnam has become notorious as the center of a flourishing trade in rhino horn.

Ground horn powder has long been valued in traditional medicine, but it is now also favored by young, wealthy Vietnamese, who pass it around in sachets after parties as a hangover cure, according to the WWF.

“It is fashionable to own and consume rhino horn, which is more expensive than gold in Vietnam,” said Dang Thu Huong, a traditional medicine seller in Hanoi. The last prosecution for smuggling horn into the country was reportedly in 2005.

Experts say Hong Kong, which has confiscated more than six tonnes of ivory since last October, is one of the key transit points for the tusk trade in Asia — along with Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam — with routes going on to China.

On a busy street in central Beijing, Chinese basketball star Yao Ming stares down from a billboard in front of a picture of an elephant carcass — part of efforts to stem Chinese consumers’ voracious demand for ivory.

But Chen is not worried that such campaigns will affect business. “We have a lot of customers,” she said, glancing at a meter-long tusk in her shop window. “Prices keep on going up.”

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  • Crazy_horse101010

    they think they own the world elephant tusks rhino horns tigers bear gallbladders   shark fins all from other countries i think there should be a open season on pandas

  • Lucky Luciano

    *********racist comment deleted*********

  • riza888

    A Vanity Fair article “Agony and Ivory” says that China has no animal-welfare laws. They have markets that sell cat, dog and rat meat. A survey was held in Guangzhou. 70% thought tusks can fall out and be collected by traders and grow back, that getting ivory did not mean the elephant is killed, and more than 80 percent would reject ivory products and not buy any more if they knew elephants were being killed, so it’s ignorance. This culture needs education and to develop a respect for life. It can happen, but will take time – evidence: women’s feet are no longer bound in China.

    • Ursula Knickenbocker

      I definitely agree that education is needed.  The growing Chinese middle class is acquiring ivory objects at an alarming rate.  Even young people buy it.  

  • jinx

    The world will soon give way to fake products over nature’s gifts. Thanks to China’s greed.

  • i_am_filipino

    They simply exchange african rebels with guns and ammunitions, destroy other government and penetrate. Government, watch out carefully with illegal gun smuggling in the country coming from china. Also includes drugs and fake alcohol coming from china. These low class chinks deserves to be wiped out in the world

    • DakuAkongUtin

      Mukhang galit ka na , tumar ka muna ng gamut baka maging kriminal ka lalo. HIndi maganda yan.

  • DakuAkongUtin

    NOw who did  massive killings of elephants for trophies in the first part of the last century in Africa?  WHo ride on elephants and with throngs of servants to shoot down lions , tigers, rhinos , cheetahs, zebras ,e tc? Werent those the british elites and royals who can only afford such hunts beside s they owned the entire countries in Africa.

    who manages these wild game reserves ? who are the big game hunters who pay big bucks just to shoot beautiful elephants just for the record books? You don t

    see Chinese hunters, do you ? its not their culture . They do love the ivory just as whtie hunters want to brag their killed elephants with their pictures and guns . They dream for a lifetime to kill these beautiful animals and hanged their trophies on walls. And with all the exotic game trophies as part of their safari hunting. Who is pointing their finger s on these people?

    While the ivory tusks are priced in China for the sake of art and beliefs for millenia, the western hunters spent high dollars to hunt and shoot these beautiful animals and have them head mounted showing their huge antlers as showcase pieces in their trophy rooms. THese are for bragging rights, for art and respect for the animals.

    Two different cultures who see two different uses of the ivory tusks. When it was the western hunters who killed elephants in huge numbers , no one is saying a word . But if the ivories were turned into beautiful pieces of art by Chinese craftsmen, and turns out valuable and beautiful then the west feels insulted seeing a simple tusk turned into art. Are we seeing a double standard here ?

    • Crazy_horse101010

      then buy a license and do it legally like everyone else instead of poaching that way you can pay for the reserves. and i have bought hunting license so i paid i did it legally not in africa though. so obey the laws  of other countries. it is none of your business oh by the way china has ads for hunting of sheep bear and others but a hunter had to obey chinas laws

    • Ursula Knickenbocker

      It takes two to tango:  Africans who kill the elephants and Chinese who buy the ivory.  Both are criminals.  Please take your head out of the sand and see how is really responsible for the massive killings of African elephants.  It’s China.  No surprise here.  This is a country who has no compassion.  Who skins a dog alive?  They do in China.
      Chinese craftmen to carve ivory?  You are joking.  Have you seen the factories filled with young workers carving ivory using electric drills?  It’s a lucrative business.  China has no respect for the environment, for the animals, and come to think of it, not for people either. China is a pariah!.

    • Marlou Wang

       You are right DAU. They make mahjong cubes from these ivories. All the tsekwas think is money, money, money.

  • Richard Cross

    The Chinese are like locusts, They consume without remorse! They have No appreciation for the sanctity of life. They do the great Buddha an injustice by participating in the genocide of the African elephant and rhino. There are over 3 billion Chinese  and only a few thousand elephants and rhinos left in the wild in Africa. The African elephant and rhino’s extinction is almost certain. If China wants to join the international community, it needs to grow up! Poaching other nation’s wild life resources is Unacceptable behavior.

    • Ursula Knickenbocker

      I wholeheartedly agree.  China is the new colonial power in Africa, exploiting the continents riches including the wildlife.  
      The only way to deal with such a country is to refuse to purchase its goods.  If we all boycott Chinese made goods perhaps China will reconsider its savage practices.

  • Marlou Wang

    This is horrendous! May those people who idolize ivory get bad karma. They don’t realize that elephants and rhinoceros get killed.  Time will come when there will be no more of this kind of species.

  • kinutil

    CHINA they don’t care because in thy heart and in thy mind and eyes are all about money money and money,and maybe someday they will make a BIG MAP that the whole world are belong to them.

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