(GENEVA)—The illegal black
market in ‘white gold’ seems ready to cause parts
of Africa to run red with elephant blood once more after
today’s decision by the Standing Committee of the Convention
on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to approve
China as a ‘trading partner’ for over 100 tonnes of
stockpiled ivory from South
Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Many conservationists and
wildlife managers have been left stunned and appalled.
naïve and deadly,” stated Will Travers CEO of the
Born Free Foundation and President of the Species Survival Network.
“It was bad enough when Japan was approved as a trading
partner more than a year ago but approving China is, in my view, like
pouring petrol on an open fire.”
The reasons why China should not have
been approved are numerous:
* The lack of comprehensive internal law enforcement and trade
* The steady stream of illegal ivory shipments destined for China.
* The increasing involvement of Chinese nationals based in Africa
in ivory trafficking.
* The continued high levels of elephant poaching (estimated to be
running at between 20,000 and 25,000 animals a year).
* The rising price of ivory (poached Sumatran ivory tusks have
reportedly increased in value by 300% since 2005).
* The fragile nature of most African elephant populations (only
half a dozen or so African countries have robust and significant
elephant herds out of a total of 37 countries that are home to
“Now, in addition to all
these challenges and threats, we are faced with the prospect of China
and Japan bidding against each other for the ivory stockpiles, driving
up the price and heightening still further the incentive to poach and
smuggle ivory” said Mr Travers, speaking from Geneva where
the Standing Committee of CITES is convened. “Furthermore, it
will be shocking to many elephant lovers globally to learn that the
decision to approve China as a trading partner was supported by WWF
SSN and Born Free have
comprehensive records relating to massive and entrenched levels of
elephant poaching over the last 10 years. Together with other
conservation groups, SSN has consistently argued against any relaxation
in the original ivory trade ban approved by CITES in 1989 following a
decade when Africa’s elephant population fell by more than
50% from 1.3 million to 600,000. Today, elephant numbers are estimated
to hover at around 475,000 – 500,000. Asian elephant numbers
stand at a precarious 30,000-40,000
--China remains a major destination
ivory from poached elephants.
> SSN believes that this fact indicates a lack of control of
domestic ivory trade;
--Permitting legal import of ivory to
China is likely to facilitate laundering of illegal ivory into the
Chinese market, and will likely increase the poaching of elephants. SSN
notes with concern that MIKE (Monitoring Illegal Killing of Elephants)
cannot provide the fast response mechanism as originally intended since
it is not sensitive enough to immediately detect and report on poaching
that takes place as
a result of this sale. There is also no way to
“recall” the ivory once it is exported. Thus, the
effect of this export on elephant poaching will not be
“officially” known for years and will not be
--Market surveys in China have detected vast amounts of illegal ivory
> on sale despite the existence of a registration system which
appears > to be widely abused and manipulated by traders (ref
EIA 2007, IFAW 2006).
--The Chinese government has legalized
ivory trade by dozens of companies thought to be implicated in illicit
trade (ref EIA 2007).
--Registered traders were found to buy
ivory from and sell to illegal dealers, as well as to illegally export
ivory (EIA, 2007).
--The Chinese government has auctioned
off confiscated ivory from poached elephants, undermining both RC 9.10
(Rev. CoP14) on /Disposal of illegally traded, confiscated and
accumulated specimens /and its own efforts to crack down on illegal
trade (EIA, 2007); the Secretariat mission to address this issue
examined ivory in only a few
stores in one city and found no irregularities there but this does not
mean that the auction did not occur. SSN remains concerned about this
--Most of China’s 20 largest
cities have not been surveyed for availability of ivory and the
effectiveness of government-enacted controls.
--Not all seizures presumed destined
for China are seized in China, but rather in transit.
--A recent survey of ivory markets in
the US found 24,000 ivory items on sale, with an estimated 7400 items
potentially crafted after 1989. Many of these items were reportedly
carved recently in and imported from China (Martin and Stiles, 2008).