The slaughter of Africa’s elephants and the illegal trade in ivory in China are “out of control,” conservationists said yesterday, with wild elephants potentially disappearing within a generation.
Soaring quantities of ivory are being sold in rapidly growing numbers of shops in China, with more than 100,000 elephants killed from 2010 to 2012, the joint report from the campaign groups Save the Elephants and the Aspinall Foundation said.
“Skyrocketing demand for ivory in China — the wholesale price of raw elephant tusks has tripled in just four years since 2010 — have sparked a booming trade in smuggled ivory that is driving the unsustainable killing of elephants in Africa,” said the report, released in the Kenyan capital.
Poaching has risen sharply across Africa in recent years, fueled by rising demand in Asia for ivory — which finds its way into jewelry and ornaments — and rhino horn, which is coveted as a traditional medicine.
Investigators from the campaign groups visited scores of shops and factories in China, the world’s main ivory manufacturing center, comparing quantities on sale and costs.
“Every metric on the ivory trade has exploded upwards in recent years. The prices of raw and worked ivory in China; the number of licensed carving factories; retail outlets both illegal and legal; items on sale — all have shot up,” they said. “Meanwhile, the weight of ivory seized and number of elephants being killed in Africa have also increased.”
The number of legal ivory stores in China shot up from 31 in 2004 to 145 last year, while the number of ivory carving factories increased from nine to 37 over the same period.
The report warns that illegal sale of ivory in unlicensed stores is growing just as fast.
Researchers said prices in China had risen for raw ivory from US$750 per kilogram in 2010 to US$2,100 this year.
“China faces enormous challenges in law enforcement to control the ivory trade, as the number of rich businesspeople in the country with interest in buying ivory continues to increase,” the report said.
“Ever-growing numbers of Chinese contract workers are going to Africa and buying increasing quantities of illegal ivory to smuggle,” it added.
Save the Elephants estimates an average of 33,000 elephants were lost to poachers each year between 2010 and 2012.
Some in China using the legal trade in ancient mammoth tusk “as a cover for selling elephant ivory,” while the “growing legal ivory trade in China is providing a smokescreen for illegal activity,” the report said.
China is making efforts to stem the trade, the report’s authors said, but added that the measures were not going far enough.
Beijing has closed down at least 10 officially designated factories and stores, “jailing hundreds of dealers and sentencing 37 smugglers to life in prison,” stamping out live auctions of ivory by almost 97 percent, the report said.
“Despite these efforts official inspections have evidently been unable to keep up with the escalation of the illegal market,” it added.
Ending the lucrative trade requires tough government action, conservationists said.
“China holds the key to the future of elephants,” Save the Elephants founder Iain Douglas-Hamilton said. “Without China’s leadership in ending demand for ivory, Africa’s elephants could disappear from the wild within a generation.”
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