China Fuels Resurgent Ivory Poaching

Ivory poaching in Africa, fuelled in large part by Chinese consumers, is reaching a scale not seen since the 1980s. The amount seized last year, twice as much as in 2010, suggests the killing of at least 2,500 elephants, but Interpol estimates that only 10% is successfully intercepted. From The Economist:

This threatens to return African elephants to the crisis times of the 1970s and 1980s, when poaching was rampant and extinction loomed for many populations. This led to an ivory trade ban, in 1989, and in turn to a collapse in demand for ivory. Elephant populations have since recovered. Yet the effects of the ban seem to be wearing thin, especially in east, west and central Africa, where wildlife protection is generally weak and the poaching heaviest ….

China is the biggest recipient of poached African ivory; and the country’s demand for the stuff is surging. A study of two Chinese cities for Traffic, by Esmond Martin and Lucy Vigne, concluded that since 2004 the number of ivory items for sale there had grown by 50% ….

… Iain Douglas-Hamilton, the founder of Save the Elephants, an advocacy group, says educating Chinese shoppers about the bloody origins of their purchase would help. There is currently an advertising campaign in China to do so. It features Chinese celebrities, like Yao Ming, a basketball star, and Ding Junhui, a snooker player, urging people not to buy products from endangered species. “When the buying stops,” they say, “the killing can too.”

Last year, a long Vanity Fair article on the illegal ivory trade, in which “all roads lead to Guangzhou”, explained one of the misconceptions which the campaign seeks to overcome:

“Another problem,” Crystal explains, “is that the Chinese word for ivory is elephant’s teeth—xiang ya. We did a survey. Seventy percent thought tusks can fall out and be collected by traders and grow back, that getting ivory did not mean the elephant is killed, and more than 80 percent would reject ivory products and not buy any more if they knew elephants were being killed, so it’s ignorance.”