UPDATE from IFAW
The seizure of a record-smashing 3,81 tonnes of illegal ivory in Hong Kong – the largest ever in China and the largest worldwide in two years – makes the past 24 months among the deadliest for elephants in recent time.
Hong Kong officials announced they had intercepted almost four tonnes (8,400 lbs) of ivory in containers aboard ships from Tanzania and Kenya. The consignments were marked “plastic scrap” and “rose coco” beans (more familiarly known as borlotti beans).
“This latest confiscation confirms the last 24 months have been among the most deadly ever for elephants,” said Jason Bell, Elephant Programme Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
“This seizure outstrips the two largest individual confiscations of illegal ivory in 2011 and 2012 by nearly 1.5 tonnes each (In December 2011, Kenyan authorities seized an illegal cargo of 2,6 tonnes and, on 1 August 2012, a consignment of 2,4 tonnes of ivory was confiscated in Vietnam).
“In 2011, in total, authorities seized more than 24,3 tonnes of illegal ivory – the biggest amount in 23 years – and, in the first quarter of 2012, poachers in Cameroon slaughtered as many as 650 elephants for their ivory,” said Bell.
“It is clear that elephants are under more threat today, than they have been in decades”.
The two shipments intercepted in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour contained a total of 1,209 elephant tusks and ivory fragments, and had travelled separate and unusual shipping routes, probably in an attempt to avoid detection.
Most illegal ivory is destined for Asia, in particular China, where it has soared in value as an investment vehicle and coveted as “white gold”. Limited availability of legal ivory China purchased from the stockpile sale from southern Africa in 2008 has, in turn, boosted demand encouraging illegal ivory trade and the poaching of elephants to meet market needs. IFAW says an estimated 25,000-50,000 elephants were killed for their ivory in 2011.
IFAW’s Asia Regional office recently uncovered auction data in mainland China showing a significant increase in the amount, sales volume and price for parts and products from endangered species, such as elephant ivory and rhino horn.
“Over 11,000 pieces of elephant ivory were put on the auction block in 2011 alone, which more than doubled the amount from just a year ago,” said Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia Regional Director for IFAW, “According to a collectibles industry newsletter in China, recorded ivory sales reached US$94 million last year, which is a 170 per cent increase over the previous year.
“The data is clear: rising wealth is now the main driver of illegal wildlife trade in China and other countries, where trading channels are moving to unregulated territory online and onto the auction block,” said Ge Gabriel.
IFAW said Chinese authorities were to be applauded for the success of their interception of the illegal ivory – at least seven alleged members of a smuggling ring had been arrested in mainland China ahead of the alleged bust in Hong Kong.
Most contraband ivory in Africa is smuggled into markets such as China where legal markets make it possible for criminals to easily launder black-market ivory.
Few animals are as threatened by wildlife trafficking as elephants. Earlier this year IFAW raised the alarm as hundreds of elephants were slaughtered in Cameroon. A recent report from IFAW makes it clear that Chinese demand, and demand in other Asian countries, is largely to blame.
IFAW trains law enforcement officers in wwildlife trafficking prevention in several countries throughout Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Oceania, and the Caribbean. To date, more than 1,300 governmental representatives at the forefront of this struggle have been trained since 2006.