Rush for elephant tusk ‘white gold’ leads to boom in China’s black market of death

elephant tusks

Rush for elephant tusk ‘white gold’ leads to boom in China’s black market of death

from www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/article3675554.ece

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Ivory can fetch up to 22,000 yuan (£2,025) per kilo on the black market Reuters

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Ivory can fetch up to 22,000 yuan (£2,025) per kilo on the black market Reuters

Leo Lewis

Last updated at 9:00PM, February 2 2013

It is a freezing, smog-smothered morning just a few days before Chinese New Year and time is pressing: gifts must be bought, investments made, officials sweetened. The sumptuous little ivory boutique in Dongfangbobao market is doing a brisk trade.

A huddle of polishers carefully work on bracelets, amulets and chopsticks. A young couple coo over the exquisite workmanship ofThe Eight Immortals Crossing The Sea — an intricate scene from Chinese myth carved from a telltale, tapered arc of purest white.

In a similar ivory store nearby, a man with a handbag of banknotes negotiates quietly at the counter over an unseen trinket. A sales assistant gently dusts a display comprising a pineapple, a plum and a persimmon: a trio of fruit-themed kitsch carved from the tusks of elephants slain thousands of miles away and sating a Chinese ivory market now way beyond control.

Recent customs seizures of smuggled ivory, though impressive to the outside world, have barely registered within the trade. The real volume arrives in containers, hidden among building products and switched through a chain of international ports.

At current black market prices of 22,000 yuan (£2,025) per kilo, some investigators believe that China’s increasing links with Africa mean that elephants may be being killed to order.

The licensed ivory shops, along with dozens more like them in the district, make a show of complete legitimacy. Beside each item of ivory is a certificate (including a picture of an elephant) attesting to its unblemished provenance — either made before the global ivory trade ban in 1989 or crafted from tusks drawn down from the 62-tonne stockpile legally bought by China in 2008.

But separate investigations by conservation groups and The Times suggest that, while some shops stick to the rules, at least 60 per cent do not. Many are either fig leaves or facilitators for an ivory black market in China that dwarfs its legal counterpart by a factor of six and where prices have quintupled since 2006.

“You can spend years tracking the process of illegal sales, and buyers may convince themselves that what they are buying is legitimate, but it is all very simple mathematics,” said a China-based investigator called Zhao who has been engaged by several non governmental organisations. “There should be about five tonnes a year of new product coming into the market from the legal stockpile. In reality, the new product flow is many, many times that. The legal trade just disguises a black market that everyone plays along with.”

In many licensed shops — and in a favourite laundering scam — customers buying certified ivory may be asked whether they would consider a discounted price in exchange for leaving the certification document in the shop. Everyone likes a bargain, and almost everyone agrees to the deal. The certificates are recycled to disguise the next batch of contraband as licensed ivory.

In line with its broader economic boom, China recently sped past Japan to become the biggest ivory market on Earth. The epicentre is Beijing. Fewer than a third of Chinese, according to one survey, even know that elephants are killed for their tusks: 70 per cent think they grow back, like fingernails.

For every licensed ivory dealer in and around Dongfangbobao there are dozens posing as jade and antique dealers that will sell smuggled ivory. Some conceal their activities behind the legal trade in the tusks of long-dead Russian mammoths. The licensed dealers, say researchers at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), http://www.ifaw.org are more often than not involved in aspects of the illegal trade. Beyond the physical market stores is a hum of online ivory trading, its activities hidden in private auction sites. Estimates vary widely on how much of the ivory sold in the licensed shops is legal and on the overall value of the black market. But evidence from online auction sites suggests that the market may be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, with its value doubling every year for the past five.

Supporting all this, say NGOs and Chinese law enforcement agencies, are international criminal gangs. “Who has the financial backing to bribe officials in multiple countries, build trucks with false compartments and load containers with huge quantities of building materials? Everything points to the involvement of large criminal syndicates. There is political power behind them as well,” said Grace Gabriel, Asia’s regional director for IFAW.

Which is one of the reasons, she says, why there is so very little pressure within China to enforce the bans already in place. She describes asking an illegal ivory trader whether it would not be more profitable to move drugs along the same routes. “He said there was no point: wildlife crime is not seen as a real crime by governments. If he’d been involved in drugs he would have been put away long, long ago.” A source at one of China’s 37 licensed carving factories admitted that the raw ivory provided from the stockpile by the Chinese authorities was sufficient only for a single month’s output. The ivory used in the remaining 11 months is all illegal.

At one end of the illegal ivory trade are African poachers, kitted-out like commando units and harvesting the “white gold” because raw ivory prices in China become more enticing with every elephant that dies.

At the other are Chinese consumers who see ivory and its long tradition as the perfect gift. A moribund Shanghai stock market and restrictions on property purchases, say economists, have also channelled ivory into that most fearsome of Chinese categories: the investment vehicle. Licensed ivory carving factory owners tell NGOs that, for the first time anyone can remember, ivory supply is not meeting demand.

“We realised that we were pushing against the tide when people talked about ivory as white gold — an investment commodity,” says Ms Gabriel, “China regards ivory as a cultural heritage, they are not going to ban it. All we can do now is to push government to crack down on illegal trade and educate consumers that, legal or illegal, every piece of ivory is from a dead elephant.”

from www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/article3675554.ece

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If you’d like to donate to International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) click on http://www.ifaw.org

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3 Responses to “Rush for elephant tusk ‘white gold’ leads to boom in China’s black market of death”

  1. craiglock Says:

    Hi
    CAN’T KEEP UP…BUT THANKS FOR THE “THANX”
    MANY MORE COMMENTS OVERNIGHT (and hundreds of thousands already on my other blogs blog…true!) …so hope it’s not slowing down your loading speed!). Am really pleased you are enjoying my writings, as the reason I write is to share.
    Am having to remove many and so sorry can’t reply individually, but DO try to read as many as possible daily
    so “thanks for the thanx”
    “As we live and move and have our being, so from this vision, we create heaven in our own lives… and perhaps even heaven on earth.”
    – craig (as inspired by Acts 17:28 and the words of Felicia Searcy)
    “Aim at the earth and you may not get off the ground.
    “Aim at the stars and you may reach the moon.”
    “Aim at heaven and you’ll have earth thrown in…
    and you may even hit the stars.”
    – craig (as inspired by the famous quote by CS Lewis – 24th May 2012)
    “When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”
    – Leonardo da Vinci
    http://www.creativekiwis.com/amazon.html
    “If a man is called to be a street-sweeper,
    he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted,
    or Beethoven composed music, or
    Shakespeare wrote poetry.
    He should sweep streets so well
    that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say,
    here lived a great street sweeper
    who did his job well.”
    – Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.
    http://peacepursuit.wordpress.com/
    http://breakdownwalls.wordpress.com/

    The various books that Craig “felt inspired to write” are available at: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B005GGMAW4

    All proceeds go to needy and underprivileged children –
    MINE!

    PPS

    Instead of trying to reply to each one of you, I’ll just keep on writing
    “If the doctor told me I had six minutes to live, I’d type a little faster.”
    http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B005GGMAW4 and and http://www.creativekiwis.com/amazon.htm

    Like

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  3. craiglock Says:

    Thanks for the follow/link/like/reblog and/or comment

    Hi

    CAN’T KEEP UP…BUT THANKS FOR THE “THANX”
    MANY MORE COMMENTS OVERNIGHT .. together with hundreds of thousands already on my various other blogs at https://craigsblogs.wordpress.com/2011/09/09/craigs-list-of-blogs-updated-sept-2011/
    …true!) …obsessive or WHAT! *So hope it’s not slowing down your loading speed!). Am really pleased you are enjoying my writings, as the reason I write is to share.

    Though I’m rather “driven”, I still get really, really fatigued, so sorry can’t reply individually to all you good people scattered around the planet, but DO try to read as many as possible daily (and even moderate a few when I get a “mo”), I got swamped with comments on my various blogs, so have had to close them off on all of my blogs, except for one or two of particular interest to me – sorry and hope you can understand..

    * “Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”

    ~ Franz Kafka

    I do really appreciate your liking, linking to and/or following this blog (and “writing in”), so “thanks for the thanx”

    “As we live and move and have our being, so from this vision, we create heaven in our own lives… and perhaps even heaven on earth.”
    – craig (as inspired by Acts 17:28 and the words of Felicia Searcy)

    “Aim at the earth and you may not get off the ground.a
    “Aim at the stars and you may reach the moon.”
    “Aim at heaven and you’ll have earth thrown in…
    and you may even hit the stars.”
    – craig (as inspired by the famous quote by CS Lewis – 24th May 2012)

    “When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”
    – Leonardo da Vinci

    When (or if ever) you arrive in heaven, let faith, hope and love be the wings that carried you there.”

    – as adapted from the inspiring words of Jonathan Edwards, former minister in New England, Massachusetts

    “The Greatest Race: Living by (with) faith, hope and love is the highest podium any person can reach, God’s podium that anyone stand on.”
    – c

    “Having pursued the goals, the dreams set before us and run the race with persistence and endurance, after giving it all. Then one day standing on the summit of life, breathing in the pure sweet oxygen of achievement, totally satisfied in running the greatest race, the race of life one that ANYONE can run and win.”

    from http://racetothechequeredflag.wordpress.com/
    and http://www.godandformula1.wordpress.com

    “If a man is called to be a street-sweeper,
    he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted,
    or Beethoven composed music, or
    Shakespeare wrote poetry.
    He should sweep streets so well
    that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say,
    here lived a great street sweeper
    who did his job well.”
    – Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

    PPS
    Instead of trying to reply to each one of you, I’ll just keep on writing

    “If the doctor told me I had six minutes to live, I’d type a little faster.”

    The various books* that Craig “felt inspired to write” are available at http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B005GGMAW4

    http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=la_B005GGMAW4_sr?rh=i%3Abooks&field-author=Craig+Lock

    https://www.createspace.com/pub/simplesitesearch.search.do?sitesearch_query=%22craig+lock%22&sitesearch_type=STORE

    http://www.creativekiwis.com/index.php/books
    and http://goo.gl/vTpjk

    All proceeds go to needy and underprivileged children –
    MINE!

    Don’t worry about the world ending today…
    as it’s already tomorrow in scenic and tranquil ‘little’ New Zealand

    PPS

    ”Since I can never see your face,
    And never shake you by the hand,
    I send my soul through time and space
    To greet you. You will understand.”

    – James Elroy Flecker (1884-1915)

    Like

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