Support for a ban on the global illegal ivory trade has been backed recently by Chinese netizens. From 2000 to 2011, whilst East Africa was the centre of illegal ivory trafficking, China and Thailand were the major destinations for ivory products.
Weak law enforcement and corrupt officials in African countries, as well as rising Chinese consumer demand and permission of legal domestic trade under a control system, still keep trade going. In July 2012, news about ivory seizures in Thailand and Vietnam hit the headlines worldwide.
The trade peaked in 2009 and remained high until 2011, according to a report published in June 2012 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which has banned international trade in elephant ivory since 1989.
Just in 2011, 14 large-scale seizures (volumes of 800 kg or above) were reported, which equals the total number in 2009 and 2010, and was the highest since 1989. Eight African elephant range states, and four Asian elephant range states have never submitted any elephant product seizure records. As salon.com reports, seizures cannot deter syndicates from smuggling, as arrests of the heads of smuggling gangs are rare.
Chinese weibo users urge ban
On Chinese microblogging site Weibo, the ban on the ivory trade is a hot issue, especially since popular Taiwan artist Chan Chien-chou uploaded [zh] a picture of a seriously injured elephant lying on the floor after its ivory was removed by poachers:
Below are some comments by Weibo users:
果断—-潘子 : 太恐怖啦，唔好买啦，无左市场，就唔会再生产噶啦
Another user, Sherry in Africa [zh] , who lives in Lagos, Nigeria, posted a thread highlighting the simple fact that African people know the desire of Chinese people to have products made from endangered animals:
Kenya: Ivory source and transit point
On July 20, 2012, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), an international non-governmental organization aiming to protect wildlife, pointed out that Kenya is both an source of illegal ivory and a transit point from Africa to Asia. IFAW Eastern Africa Regional Director James Isiche believes the cases discovered are just the tip of the iceberg and blames Kenya authorities:
Incidences of elephant poaching are on the rise in Kenya, and it is now emerging that the country is not only a source of illegal ivory, but has also become one of the smuggling route of choice for traffickers [...] While Kenyan authorities have in the past done a commendable job in impounding ivory at various exit points in the country, the trend of seizures in the last one and half years is worrying. There is need and urgency for all authorities in Kenya and other elephant range states to protect elephants from poachers as well as to seal off these routes to deter criminal gangs involved in this vice.
From ban to ‘regulated control’ of trade?
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), realizing the increasing demand will make banning efforts useless, has started discussing regulation of ivory trade. The organization proposes to establish a Central Ivory Selling Organisation (CISO) [pdf] which would ‘gain control of the market’ and only trade ivory from elephants that die naturally. The revenue is to be reinvested in protection and conservation.
Such suggestions face severe criticism from conservation groups such as the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). Executive Director Mary Rice has raised deep concerns:
EIA remains deeply concerned that any more ‘legal’ sales – or discussion of ‘legal’ sales – of ivory will further stimulate the ivory market, supporting the perception that international trade has resumed and increasing demand for illegal ivory.
EIA rejects CITES’ proposal and instead calls for an independent review of the enforcement gaps that have led to the failure of the current ivory trade system, such as corruption and laundering mechanisms of illegal trade.