Nearly 150 lbs of illegal ivory intercepted at Beijing airport

Monday, 19 February, 2007
Yarmouth Port, MA
China Customs seized 149 lbs (67.5 kg) of illegal elephant ivory, representing approximately seven elephants, from a female passenger that had just arrived in Beijing from Addis Abba, Ethiopia on Tuesday. A luggage search revealed half-finished mahjong sets, bracelets, necklaces and other ornaments made of ivory.
The passenger, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, was standing in the nothing-to-declare customs line at the Beijing Capital International Airport, when the surprise inspection was conducted. 

Elephants are protected under an Appendix I listing of CITES (Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species) law, with international trade for commercial purposes being strictly prohibited. However, since 1997, several CITES decisions have resulted in Appendix II listings for some populations, meaning certain trade is permitted with special permits from CITES. Additionally, in 1999, a one-off stockpile sale of 50 tons (45 tonnes) was even approved for Japan.

In recent years, large amounts of elephant ivory have been confiscated in many Asian ports. In 2006 alone, over 24 tons (22.5 tonnes) of ivory was confiscated; this is suspected to represent only a fraction of the actual illegal trade. The wholesale prices of ivory in Asia have skyrocketed, going from $221/lb ($100/kg) in the late 1990’s to the current staggering $1654/lb ($750/kg). 
“The one-off sale of ivory to Japan in 1999 spun the ivory markets in Asia out of control and created enormous difficulties for law enforcement agencies trying to control the illegal trade,” said Grace Ge Gabriel, IFAW’s (International Fund for Animal Welfare – Asia Regional Director, applauding the seizure by China Customs. Until all trade in ivory is banned and is subsequently enforced, elephants will continue to be killed for their ivory and loopholes will exist for laundering that ivory. 
“This escalating illegal trade is killing thousands of elephants,” said Michael Wamithi, IFAW’s Program Manager for global elephant campaigning, who has worked on the anti-poaching frontlines in Africa. “CITES is failing in its mandate to ensure that trade in elephant products does not threaten the survival of this endangered species.”
In response to the increased poaching of African elephants, a proposal by Kenya and Mali has been submitted to CITES calling for a 20 year moratorium on the elephant ivory trade. The proposal will be up for discussion at the CITES 14th Conference of the Parties, in June in the Netherlands. IFAW strongly supports such a ban.

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