Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Cancer of Ivory Smuggling returns to Haunt World Trade

Oriental passion revives the spectre of an ancient trade in blood - An HSG Feature article by John van Dore
Shipping News Feature

CHINA – VIETNAM – AFRICA – THAILAND - The past few months have seen an upsurge in seizures of illegal shipments of ivory, particularly in Vietnam. Just this week 2 tonnes of elephant ivory was discovered in a shipping container of Tanzanian snail shells by vigilant Customs officers at Haiphong and last week local police found 17 tusks in a car stopped on the Ho Chi Minh road in Trung Xuan. Haiphong customs also seized 6 tonnes of ivory from another container in March.

The reason for the increase can be put simply down to two factors. The desirability of ivory products to the nouveau riche Chinese who like to demonstrate their wealth by possession of elephant ivory and the perceived aphrodisiac qualities of rhino horn, and the consequential escalation in value of the illicit product. The price of ivory in Vietnam last year was put as high as $1200 per kilo.

Ivory has also been seized at source with six men arrested this month in Tanzania on charges of illegal hunting and exporting 11 tonnes of elephant ivory to Vietnam and the Philippines. Vietnam is generally considered as a middle man for ivory en route to China.

China can now be seen to taking steps toward reduction of the trade. A notice posted on the wall of the Chinese Embassy in Harare, Zimbabwe reads: “It has been observed that Zimbabweans knowingly or unknowingly, willingly or unwillingly have been involved in trafficking prohibited substances into China. According to Chinese law, illegal buying or selling of, importing and exporting of the following products is a serious offence that attracts a death penalty or life imprisonment.” The subsequent list consists of illegal narcotics and ivory.

Just this week a further seizure of 800 kilos of ivory at Bangkok Airport after transit from Kenya and Uganda, whilst arrests of Chinese nationals in Nairobi and seizures at Dar es Salaam show how endemic and international this trade has become.

In poorer African countries such as Namibia the ivory trade, where pieces are worked into crafted items which can then be exported, has traditionally been a source of revenue. The trade in these countries is supposedly rigidly regulated with all ivory supplied to the artisans being carefully recorded and logged to ensure no illicit supplies can be smuggled out as legal items. Unfortunately this system is of course open to abuse given the comparatively large sums of money which change hands.

Many authorities blame the relaxation of the ban on South African ivory by CITES (the Convention in International Trade of Endangered Species) which, they say, has caused an upsurge in illegal hunting in East Africa, the resultant ivory then being smuggled south where corrupt officials allegedly ratify its legality.

Like the drug trade, it seems the only way to stop the slaughter of the innocents is a return to a complete world ban on ALL ivory trading which needs to be enforced by every country, particularly Africa and China.