Asian Demand for Ivory Leads 'Unprecedented Assault' on African Elephants

Photo © Elizabeth John / TRAFFIC

A record number of at least 13 large-scale ivory seizures in 2011, along with continued elephant killings in Africa, indicate that the illegal ivory trade is thriving — thanks to demand from Asia.

In addition, records from “hundreds of smaller ivory seizures” are currently being compiled by the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

Trinkets and jewelry carved from elephant tusks are still considered symbols of wealth and status, especially in China, which is a major destination of illicit ivory shipments from African countries.

African wildlife paying the ultimate price

Dr. Tom Millken of TRAFFIC told The Guardian that 23 tonnes of ivory were seized in 2011, representing at least 2,500 elephants.

Photo © Elizabeth John / TRAFFIC

He added that elephants and other African wildlife were paying the price of “China’s investment drive” across the continent.

We’ve reached a point in Africa’s history where there are more Asian nationals on the continent than ever before. They have contacts with the end-use market and now they are at the source in Africa.

This is all adding up to an unprecedented assault on elephants and other wildlife.

Indeed, at least 443 rhinos were killed in South Africa during 2011, to meet the demand for illegal rhino horn in China and Vietnam, where rhino horn is still believed to cure a variety of ailments, from colds to cancer.

Rhino horn’s effectiveness as a medicine, however, has been proven to be nothing more than a cultural myth.

Ivory destined for China or Thailand

Thousands of elephants have been killed, with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, bearing the brunt of this brutal slaughter.

TRAFFIC reported that illicit ivory shipments are usually destined for China or Thailand, with Malaysia frequently serving as a transit country.

The majority of large-scale ivory seizures during the past year have originated from Kenya and Tanzania.

Photo © Elizabeth John / TRAFFIC

In an effort to conceal the fact that the elephant tusks have originated from Africa, ivory documentation is “changed” to make it appear as though the shipment is a local re-export, thus exploiting another murky trade loophole.

That’s an indication of the level of sophistication enforcement officers are up against in trying to outwit the criminal masterminds behind this insidious trade.

Although arrests are often made for smaller numbers of tusks and ivory trinkets, there have not been any arrests made in connection with most of these large-scale ivory seizures.

All photos courtesy and © Elizabeth John / TRAFFIC.

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