Legal ivory trade masks illegal market

Chinese people looking at an ivory tusk carving display at a shop in Beijing. (Wang Zhao, AFP)
Chinese people looking at an ivory tusk carving display at a shop in Beijing. (Wang Zhao, AFP)
Beijing - A huge haul of illegal ivory in China has revealed the vast scale of the trade and flaws in the country's system of legal ivory sales, a wildlife monitoring group said.

A court heard that authorities seized a total of 7.7 tons of ivory on a series of occasions in 2011, reports said last week, and three people were jailed for terms ranging from seven to 15 years in connection with the case.

The seizure represented the ivory of more than 800 elephants, wildlife monitoring group Traffic said in a statement.

China has a legal market in ivory, which is supplied from a stockpile of 62 tons of ivory bought with international approval in 2008. But critics have accused the legal trade of masking a much larger illegal market.

One of the convicts managed several legal ivory shops, showing a systematic attempt to "launder illegal ivory into the legal marketplace on a grand scale", Traffic said.

"The magnitude of these seizures is a shocking blow to the integrity of China's legal ivory trade system," the release quoted Traffic spokesperson Tom Milliken as saying.

The group added that the Chinese report brought the total estimated weight of ivory seized in 2011 to a "staggering" 46.5 tons, making it the worst year for ivory smuggling on record.

"2011 was already the worst year for the volume of ivory seized since records were first compiled in 1989, but this new information puts the annual total into the astronomic zone," Milliken said.

Elephants killed for ivory

Conservation group WWF estimates that around 25 000 elephants were hunted for ivory in 2011, and predicts an even higher toll for 2012.

There could be as few as 470 000 left, it says.

Experts say that most illegal ivory is taken to China, with some estimating the country accounts for as much as 70% of global demand.

But conservation groups have also praised China for making high-profile arrests of major ivory smugglers.

"Authorities in China are to be congratulated for this breakthrough," Traffic said in the statement on Friday, "but must endeavour to follow up on every possible lead to ensure this ivory supply line between Africa to China is well and truly severed."

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
DAYS
HRS
MINS
Voting Booth
Who do you think is going to win the 2020 US election?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Biden is going to take it
47% - 7521 votes
It's four more years for Trump
53% - 8644 votes
Vote
ZAR/USD
16.19
(-0.10)
ZAR/GBP
21.11
(-0.12)
ZAR/EUR
19.19
(-0.12)
ZAR/AUD
11.55
(-0.13)
ZAR/JPY
0.15
(-0.14)
Gold
1901.55
(+0.01)
Silver
24.57
(+0.10)
Platinum
902.03
(+0.40)
Brent Crude
41.85
(-1.66)
Palladium
2378.04
(+0.61)
All Share
55339.58
(+0.99)
Top 40
50692.28
(+0.83)
Financial 15
10790.70
(+3.99)
Industrial 25
74905.70
(+1.05)
Resource 10
52561.57
(-0.49)
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes morningstar logo