Angola’s largest ivory market

Nairobi - The artist market just north of Angola's capital sells paintings, hand-carved wooden animals and newly woven baskets. It is also sells more than 10 000 pieces of ivory, making it the largest market in southern Africa to openly sell elephant tusks, an illegal trade.

Across the African continent, in Kenya, two of the country's biggest tuskers, as the continent's biggest bulls are called, were slaughtered by poachers. The phenomena are interconnected.

The international ivory trade is threatening to wipe out Africa's elephants. Tens of thousands of elephants are being killed for their ivory tusks each year continent-wide.

While experts say there has been a decline in elephant poaching, they say more needs to be done, as the deaths of the beloved pachyderms in Kenya show.

At the Benfica Market near Luanda, Angola, two animal researchers recently counted 10 026 pieces of ivory for sale, necklaces, bracelets, carved figurines and whole tusks. And that huge count didn't include backup inventory the sellers kept nearby.

Chinese buyers

"I was flabbergasted because it was so big", said Esmond Martin, one of two researches publishing a paper in an upcoming issue of Traffic Bulletin, a wildlife trade journal. "It's completely illegal."

The huge demand for ivory in China and the riches a relatively impoverished Kenyan or Tanzanian man, for instance, can make by shooting an elephant and selling its tusks are leading to the slaughter.

Kenya this month mourned the poaching deaths of Mountain Bull, the patriarch elephant of the Mt. Kenya region, and Satao, a 45-year-old bull some experts believe was the largest on earth. Poachers killed him with a poison arrow.

"A great life lost so that someone far away can have a trinket on their mantelpiece", the Tsavo Trust said in announcing Satao's death.

Achim Steiner, the head of the Kenya-based United Nations Environmental Program, said on Thursday that such killings fill him with deep frustration.

"I think it's both a tragedy and a travesty that in this day and age we are not able to contain and manage what ultimately is an act of irresponsibility that can lead to the extinction of species forever," the official whose agency is charged with protecting the world's flora and fauna, said.

Earlier this month customs officials in Hong Kong discovered 790kg of ivory in 32 suitcases. The flight had originated in Angola, the South China Morning Post reported.

Martin and Lucy Vigne have documented ivory markets in Nigeria, Sudan and Egypt and at times had to flee angry, threatening sellers worried the pair's research would harm their livelihood.

In Angola, though, no one seemed to care. They were able to count all of the ivory, take dozens of photos and ask sellers prices and how the pieces were carved. Chinese buyers appear in many of their photos.

"Obviously it was a totally open trade. No pressure to keep it under cover, and obviously all designed with the Chinese market", said Vigne, whose trip with Martin was funded by the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo Conservation Fund and the UK-based Aspinall Foundation.
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