An unprecedented surge in ivory seizures occurred in 2011. Media reported that 5,259 elephant tusks were seized worldwide in that year alone, representing the lives of at least 2,629 elephants. In spite of the government’s efforts to regulate the ivory trade, China continues to be the world’s main recipient of smuggled ivory.
In 2004 China introduced an ivory product registration and certification system to control the domestic ivory market and to meet the conditions required by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) for the purchase of stockpiled ivory from some African countries. In July 2008, the CITES Standing Committee approved of China as a trading partner for the second so-called “one-off” sale of ivory from Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
IFAW has been investigating ivory markets in Asia for the past ten years. Recently we initiated our fifth survey of ivory markets in China. This survey was conducted two and half years after the 62 tonnes of ivory China bought at the CITES-approved sale were officially imported in March 2009.
The survey was conducted by local experts who both visited physical markets and monitored online marketplaces. The physical market visits were conducted in September and October 2011 in five cities along the eastern seaboard of China. Online marketplaces were monitored for one week in January 2012.
In general, the survey found widespread abuse of the ivory trade control system. It became clear that illegal ivory, once smuggled to the country can be laundered freely through the legal market. The legal trade is sustaining and perpetuating a rising demand for elephant ivory.