CITES condemns the world’s elephants to slaughter: Ivory stocks released to China - world’s largest illegal market

Tuesday, 15 July, 2008
(Geneva, Switzerland – 15 July 2008) Conservationists have condemned today’s deadly decision to allow China to buy huge amounts of ivory, which could spell disaster for the world’s remaining elephant populations.
The decision taken at the 57th Standing Committee for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), enables China to become a trading partner for 108 tonnes of elephant ivory which have been put up for sale from four southern African nations, including Zimbabwe. This amount of ivory represents the deaths of over 10,000 African elephants. China is known to have the world’s largest illegal ivory market, and is the single major destination for illegal ivory, mostly from slaughtered elephants in Africa.

Robbie Marsland, UK Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW – said: “We are deeply disappointed that CITES has backed China as an ivory buyer, a decision that plays Russian roulette with wild elephants. Allowing new ivory to be imported into China will stimulate demand and create a smokescreen for illegal ivory to be laundered into the legal market, to be sold in stores or online to Chinese citizens or foreigners.”

China’s growing demand for ivory is driving up the prices paid on the black market. Prices in China have rocketed by almost 400% in the past four years from $200/kg to $850/kg today - a huge financial incentive for criminal traders and poachers.

China’s current ivory trade controls and enforcement are woefully inadequate to police the ever-growing large scale ivory trade within its borders. Recent revelations from a document from the Chinese Government to the UN, has shown that China lost 110 tonnes of their legal stockpiled ivory over a period of 12 years, suggesting that it was sold on illegal ivory markets.

Polling of Chinese citizens commissioned by IFAW in 2007 revealed that more than 75% of respondents who identified themselves as consumers of ivory would willingly violate the existing control system to obtain ivory at a cheaper price.

The decision to approve China as an ivory buyer goes against recommendations from the African Elephant Coalition (AEC) meeting held in June in Mombasa, Kenya. Eighteen countries agreed that China should not be approved.

Michael Wamithi, Programme Director for IFAW’s global elephants programme, and former director of the Kenya Wildlife Service, commented: “An estimated 20,000 elephants are slaughtered annually for the trade in their tusks. Many African elephant range states clearly do not have the capacity or resources to combat these massive attacks on their countries’ wildlife heritage and the burgeoning markets in China are only fuelling these attacks.”

Significant amounts of ivory in the stockpiles to be exported from Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe have been collected through culling and natural deaths. However, although the ivory was not obtained through illegal poaching activities, IFAW fears legal sales will pave the way for unscrupulous traders and elephant poachers to launder illegal ivory within these legal stocks.

Before today’s decision, Japan was the sole country approved by CITES as a trading partner for these ivory stocks – despite much evidence that the domestic market is not under control. These sales will be the second time in nearly two decades that the international sale in ivory has been authorised since the ban by CITES in 1989.

Notes to editors

Conservationists are alarmed by China’s links to African elephant poaching. Within 22 of the 37 African elephant range states, Chinese nationals have been charged for ivory offences. Recent reports from Africa have shown that elephant poaching is fuelling conflict – it is believed that ivory taken by the Janjaweed in Chad is taken back to Khartoum where it is sold on to China.

In 1989, CITES Parties listed the African elephant on Appendix I, effectively prohibiting all international trade in elephants and their derivatives, including ivory, but in 1997 this was resanctioned and certain populations were down-listed to Appendix II, allowing certain trade with special permissions from CITES.

One year ago, a suspension of at least nine years on international elephant ivory trade was approved at the 14th meeting of the CITES Conference of the Parties, coming into effect after the stockpiles sales are completed.

The UK is an EU representative on the CITES Standing Committee. 150 MPs signed an Early Day Motion (EDM 1401) urging the government to oppose China’s request, and to protect elephants from this deadly trade.

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