Illegal Ivory Trade Thriving in Africa and Asia, Says Study
BANGKOK The illegal ivory trade is thriving in Africa and Asia, where China remains the world's biggest market despite a crackdown launched two years ago, an environmental group said recently.
"The ivory market in China continues to be the single most important influence on the upward trend in illegal trade," Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, said in a study.
Hundreds of thousands of African elephants were slaughtered for their tusks before the ivory trade was banned in 1989.
The illegal ivory trade, on the rise since 1995, will be a key issue at a global wildlife conference to be held in Bangkok next month.
Traffic named China, Thailand, and four African countries Nigeria, Cameroon, Ethiopia, and Democratic Republic of Congo as major suppliers and markets for illegal ivory.
Its study was based on an analysis of 9,400 seizures of elephant ivory and other products recorded by the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), which tracks seizures.
Traffic said Beijing had worked harder to fight the trade than the other five problem countries, with some 182 seizures in the past two years. But the challenge in China is huge.
"China is to be commended, but right now it is still the most significant driver of the global ivory trade," James Compton, Traffic's Southeast Asia director, told reporters.
In Thailand, which has a legal domestic ivory market, lax regulation means illicit ivory from Africa easily makes its way into the tourist shops and markets of Bangkok.
Robert Mather of the World Wildlife Fund said Thailand had yet to comply with a resolution by the U.N.'s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
The resolution required nations with a domestic trade to register retailers, track the lifecycle of the ivory sold, and educate tourists.
"That is what CITES expects Thailand to do, and that is what Thailand has not done," Mather said.
Among the four African countries named in the study, Traffic said there has been no change in the situation, "where illegal ivory trade problems remain paramount."
The 1989 CITES ban on the trade in ivory is widely credited with stemming a slaughter that saw Africa's elephant population plummet to 600,000 from about 1.2 million in just over a decade.
A 2002 decision by CITES to let South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia stage one-time sales of stockpiled ivory was met with protests from conservationists, who said it would renew a bloody wave of poaching.
Those sales have not yet occurred pending an assessment of the possible impact of poaching arising from such action.
But at the conference next month, Namibia is requesting an annual export quota of two tons of ivory a proposal that will stir controversy and be met with fierce resistance from states such as Kenya, which insist the ban remain in place.