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Illegal ivory trade on the rise across the world

ENDANGERED SPECIES? Rise in world's illegal ivory trade can mean the end of world's elephants. Picture: Armand Hough/Independent Media

ENDANGERED SPECIES? Rise in world's illegal ivory trade can mean the end of world's elephants. Picture: Armand Hough/Independent Media

Published Nov 29, 2016


An ETIS report has found that the number of countries implicated in the illegal ivory trade has grown almost fourfold.

The 28 countries most responsible for the deaths of African elephants have been revealed in a new report, although other major offenders avoided censure because they failed to provide information or seize any ivory.

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In the last three years, the number of countries implicated in illegal ivory trade has grown almost fourfold.

Apart from elephant range states, such as Tanzania, being major poaching hotspots, or even the predominant ivory consumer state, China, other countries like Togo, Qatar and Vietnam are guilty of being major transit hubs for the illicit flow of ivory. And it’s not only in Asia or Africa, where criminal syndicates operate, but also in European countries like Belgium and Austria.

The report, released by the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), places countries into categories of primary or secondary concern and “of importance to watch”. For example, China, Hong Kong, Kenya, Malawi, Malaysia, Singapore, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Vietnam - all countries of primary concern - they collectively account for the greatest quantity of illegal trade based on the size and amount of ivory seizures over the past decade.

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However, the data is somewhat misleading because a country like Kenya gets slapped with the label of primary concern because it prevented many large shipments of ivory from reaching Asia. Perversely, Kenya therefore gets a bad rap for doing a relatively good job (although Kenya has yet to improve its conviction rate of ivory traffickers).

On the other hand, Laos, which is notorious as a major transit country of illegal ivory flowing from Africa into China, is simply considered “of importance to watch”. This is mainly due to the fact that the south-east Asian country failed to report a single seizure since 1989 and therefore cannot be adequately categorised.

Together with Laos, some of the worst offenders - Nigeria, Mozambique, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Egypt, and Japan - are distortedly not listed under primary concern because of their unwillingness to provide data or to report confiscated ivory, if, of course, illegal ivory was confiscated at all.

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In the primary concern group, China remains the main destination country for illicit ivory, and has been in every ETIS analysis since 2002 in spite of campaigns and tougher penalties to crack down on the illegal trade.

Hong Kong, regarded as separate to China, functions primarily as a transit intermediary for ivory destined for the Chinese mainland, but the territory also has one of the world’s largest domestic ivory markets. There are widespread allegations that Hong Kong’s domestic market is engaged in large-scale illegal ivory laundering. Vietnam serves as a major transit country for ivory destined for China. The report says there is new evidence suggesting ivory is for sale there in considerable quantities.

Tanzania and Uganda, along with Kenya, collectively constitute the greatest illicit sources of ivory flowing out of Africa.

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These countries, however, are making strides in cracking down on the criminal syndicates, but Tanzania remains the largest elephant poaching hotspot in the world, according to the results of the Great Elephant Census.

Of the nine countries of secondary concern, Gabon, Congo and Cameroon, are the source of the most significant quantities of ivory from forest elephants. Nigeria has a major domestic market and serves as a significant transit hub of illegal ivory to Asia. It has demonstrated a notable unwillingness to prevent the trade and provide ETIS with data.

South Africa surprisingly appears either unwilling or unable to provide ETIS with data “due to lack of a centralised reporting system and that most provinces fail to submit data directly”.

On the other end of the scale, Ethiopia’s “dataset in ETIS is, since 2011, one of the best of any African country”. It is, however, an important air transport hub connecting Africa with Asia.

Thailand was switched from primary to secondary concern simply because there were no large-scale ivory seizures in the period 2012-2014. This has improved the country’s standing in the current analysis, but the country remains one of the biggest gateways of illegal ivory into China.

The Philippines was moved from being a “country of primary concern” to a “country to watch”.

However, it still has a domestic ivory carving industry focused on the production of religious artefacts.

Of countries of importance to watch not already mentioned, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are two of the world’s most important air transport hubs for illegal ivory between Africa and Asia.

The remaining countries in this group; Japan, Angola, DRC, Egypt, Mozambique and Laos, all have significant domestic ivory markets and contribute heavily in trade of ivory flowing out of Africa and into China but, again, because of the lack of seizures and/or compliance with ETIS data, they do not get graded beyond “importance to watch”.

One of the most notable aspects of the ETIS report is the absence of the names of countries beyond the 28 where ivory is also illegally traded. South Sudan, Sudan and Somalia are major players in ivory poaching where the trade has been linked to funding terrorist groups such as al-Shabaab and Lord’s Resistance Army.

In Asia, Myanmar and Indonesia serve as transit highways into China but have somehow escaped notice, while in Oceania, Australia and New Zealand have recently been implicated in the illicit trade.

Despite recent moves to close it down, the US still has the second largest domestic ivory market behind China and is renowned as a hotbed for the laundering of illegal ivory from Africa while many countries in the European Union, such as Germany, Spain and Austria, have recently reported significant ivory seizures.

The Conservation Action Trust

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