The dramatic increase in ivory poaching across Africa is being fuelled by organised crime based in China and the Far East, according to a new report.
This has resulted in a surge in ivory prices from around $241 per kilogram in 2004 to more than $6,446 today.
Scientists now estimate that between eight and 10 per cent of Africa’s elephants are being killed each year.
The report which is based on the latest analysis of seizure data in the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) suggests an increased involvement of organised crime syndicates in the illicit ivory trade, connecting African source countries with Asian end-use markets.
According to the latest statistics, more than 14,000 products made from the tusks and other body parts of elephants were seized last year — an increase of more than 2,000 since 2007.
The Etis data shows that such crime syndicates have become stronger and more active over the last decade.
The report states: “There continues to be a highly significant correlation between large-scale domestic ivory markets in Asia and Africa and poor law enforcement, suggesting that illicit ivory trade flows typically follow a path to destinations where law enforcement is weak and markets function with little regulatory impediment.”
It also notes that the rise in illicit trade in ivory “indicates that the implementation of the Cites’ action plan for the control of trade in African elephant ivory has failed.”
The Etis analysis identifies Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Thailand as the three countries most heavily implicated in the global illicit ivory trade. China, which along with Japan was an approved destination of the legal Cites sanctioned one-off ivory sale in 2008, faces a persistent illegal trade challenge from its nationals now based in Africa.
“Ongoing evidence highlights widespread involvement of overseas Chinese in the illicit procurement of ivory, a problem that needs to be addressed through aggressive outreach and awareness initiative directed at Chinese communities living abroad,” the report says.
It adds that after the second cites-approved ivory sale, in 2008, the results are unclear as to whether it has stimulated demand or simply coincided with an increase in supply that as already underway over the last four years. The reports authors say that collection of more data over an extended time period will throw further light on this vital issue.
What is clear, however, is that there is a significant debate between different East African countries over the best way forward in tackling the issue
Kenya and other countries including the DRC want a ban on all stockpile sales of legal ivory stocks while countries such as Tanzanian and Zambia, which have some of the worst poaching records, want a relaxation of ivory trade regulations. They believe that millions of pounds can be raised from such sales which will help them fund rangers who can protect their elephants .