Ivory as the new white gold
Hong Kong customs officers have intercepted almost four tonnes of illegal ivory in October, making the past two years among the deadliest for elephants. Mary Anne Ghobrial reports.
Travelling aboard shipments from Tanzania and Kenya, the smuggled ivory contained a total of 1,209 elephant tusks and ivory fragments, and was stored in containers marked plastic scrap and rose coco beans.
Matthew Collis, campaigner for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said: “What we’re now seeing in Asia is a growing affluent middle class … and as that Asian middle class grows, [ivory] demand grows with it.”
Made from an elephant’s teeth and tusks, the demand for elephant ivory has now become an investment vehicle in China, coveted as a form of white gold.
According to Mr. Collis, ivory in China is often perceived as a status symbol for the wealthy.
While Mr. Collis credits the Australian government for taking a stance against the illegal importation of ivory, he says IFAW would also like to see the government take a stance on an international scale.
“We’d now like to see them have an international convention to discuss issues like this one, and to make sure they say no to any of the other countries wanting to open the ivory trade,” Mr. Collis said.
Taronga Zoo volunteer, Sophia Lay, has also worked closely with these animals. She believes the slaughtering of elephants is worse than ever before, with elephant tusks occasionally used in traditional medicines in the Middle East and Asia.
Sophia said: “This ivory trade means our elephants are under more threat today than they’ve been in decades.
“Protests to stop this treatment of elephants should most definitely be looked at, as well as government intervention in Australia and other nations … to stop what’s been happening.”
An issue of concern now is that the buying and selling of ivory has also been extended to unregulated territory online. This makes it harder for governments to charge those who buy and sell ivory over the internet.
While the Chinese government has ordered the removal of these websites, an IFAW investigation still found there were many more stores in China selling ivory without authorisation.
In 2011, authorities seized more than 24.3 tonnes of illegal ivory, the largest amount in 23 years. In January to May of 2012, poachers in Cameroon had also slaughtered as many as 650 elephants.
As a result, the trafficking of illegal ivory is seeing a steady decline of the elephant population, with few animals as threatened today by wildlife trafficking as elephants.
As was released by the Hong Kong customs department, the total ivory seizure on October 20 had been worth HK$26.7 million. Under Hong Kong law, anyone found guilty of importing ivory into South China could face imprisonment of up to seven years, with a maximum fine of approximately US$258,000.
IFAW is currently training law enforcement officers in wildlife trafficking prevention throughout Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the Caribbean to prevent this trade and the smuggling of ivory.