(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.
“Unbelievable, 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 controls.
* 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 the species).
“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 amongst others.
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 for 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 reversible.
-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 matter.
–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).