Illegal Ivory Trade Flourishes in China

Tuesday, 28 June, 2005
Yarmouth Port, MA
Despite systematic efforts by regulators and enforcement officials, the illegal ivory trade is flourishing in China with illegal manufacturing and retail outlets outnumbering legal providers seven to one. According to an independent study recently released by IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare –, illegal ivory is making its way into the unwitting hands of tourists and Chinese citizens through black market traders posing as legitimate retailers. As a consequence, elephants are being poached in Asia and Africa to supply the demand for the illegal trade.
“This report clearly shows the links between the legal and illegal ivory trades. Chinese policy makers and enforcement officials have tried to bring the trade under control, but according to IFAW’s study there simply is no way to stop the illegal sale of ivory in China as long as legal ivory sales continue,” said Peter Pueschel, program manager, IFAW. “If the legal ivory markets are not shut down immediately, we will fail in our efforts to protect the elephants in Africa and Asia from poaching.”

Details of the study indicate that the majority of illegal traders know they are flaunting the registration and accreditation guidelines dictated by the Chinese State Forestry Administration (SFA) and Administration of Industry and Commerce (SAIC). But according to black market traders, enforcement is lax. There are few government inspections and many are tipped off in advance. 

The legal ivory markets provide camouflage for black market suppliers who have developed end-to-end manufacturing and distribution networks. Illegal ivory dealers have their own sources to obtain raw ivory and access local underground workshops to provide manufacturing services. Some dealers even have stable distribution channels which include international trade partners. The study also uncovered ways in which legal traders evade guidelines – including the sale of illegal duplicates of certified ivory items.

With controls easily evaded by retailers and illicit ivory broadly available to consumers, it would breach CITES requirements if China were allowed to become an importer of ivory stockpiles. The decision on whether or not to allow China to import ivory from southern Africa will be made the CITES Standing Committee, meeting in Geneva from June 27 – July 1.

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