China Busts Illegal Ivory Traders in Guangzhou Market

LONDON, UK, March 15, 2004 (ENS) - Chinese officials have seized nearly 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of ivory in the southern city of Guangzhou, China. The enforcement operations were conducted based on information provided by the London based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) an independent, international campaign organization that works to investigate and expose environmental crime.

The raid was carried out March 8 by China’s Endangered Species Import and Export Management Office and State Forestry Administration and made public today.


Carved ivory puzzle ball on a carved figure base (Photo courtesy Edith M. Hodgson Collection, Bryant College Library)
Three years of EIA investigations into the ivory market in Guangzhou, the core of the traditional ivory industry in China, have revealed that some of the dealers in Guangzhou’s Jade Market area are involved in illegal ivory trade.

To protect endangered elephants, a global ban on commercial trade in elephant ivory has been in place since 1989, imposed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Although Guangzhou’s carvers were reportedly down to a few months supply of ivory in 1989, EIA investigators have found that the industry still flourishes.

EIA’s latest investigation of the Jade Market area in November 2003 revealed that one of the shops, identified by EIA as a major supplier of ivory since 2000, still sold a wide range of products, from brooches to large sculptures.

An owner of another shop openly stated that his business thrives on ivory smuggled from Africa. He went into detail, EIA said, explaining how he sends regular shipments abroad, although increasingly more of his products are sold to Chinese customers.

Mr. Wan, from the Chinese Endangered Species Import and Export Management Office, said, “[With] the valuable information collected and provided by EIA, an enforcement operation [aimed] at combating the illicit trade in ivory was successfully conducted on March 8, 2004 in Guangzhou by the Forest Police Bureau of the State Forestry Administration.”

Wan said this operation demonstrates China’s political will to deal with the illicit trade in ivory, and added that China has plans to introduce a compulsory trade system soon.

The Chinese ivory seizure comes just in time to help the EIA make its point to CITES officials that a one-off sale of elephant ivory stockpiled by three African countries should not be allowed.

Despite the global trade ban on elephant ivory, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa have applied to legally sell ivory that has been accumulated in government storehouses from disposal of problem animals and from those that died of natural causes. The applicant countries have pledged to use the proceeds of the ivory sale for elephant conservation, but critics say a legal sale would mask illicit ivory trading and would encourage poachers.

The decision on the one-off sale may be made at the week long CITES Standing Committee meeting that opened today in Geneva.

In November 2002, CITES Parties voted to allow a one-off sale of ivory from Namibia, Botswana and South Africa after May of this year, providing that certain conditions are met.


This elephant in Kenya is more valuable to poachers dead than alive. (Photo credit unknown)
This is the second time CITES has permitted such a sale. The first sale was agreed in 1997 and carried out in 1999. To date, Japan, the importing country in the first sale, is the only country that has indicated an interest in buying the ivory stockpiles.

Zhang Libao, an official with the public security bureau of the State Forestry Administration, told EIA investigators that ivory smuggling has increased since the one-off sale of ivory was allowed in 1997. He said that smugglers are increasingly targeting China as a good market.

EIA’s elephant campaigner Dr. Mari Park said, “EIA commends the swift enforcement action taken by the Chinese authorities in Guangzhou acting on our information. China is a major destination for illegal ivory, and regulating ivory trade, particularly an internal trade, presents a difficult challenge to authorities.”

The volume of ivory seized in China has amounted to tons of the valuable material. Between the 1997 decision of the one-off sale and October 2002, EIA has recorded seizures totalling 4.76 tons bound for China and seizures totalling 24.32 tons within its borders.

In 2002, a court case in Beijing revealed that one syndicate had smuggled 14 tons of ivory into China since 1999. In August 2002, over three tons of raw ivory was seized by Customs in Shanghai.

China’s efforts to stop the illegal ivory trade have largely concentrated on border controls so far, and the EIA called this month’s seizure of 300 kilograms of ivory "a major breakthrough in internal policing by Chinese authorities."

Dr. Park said, “It is clear that the one-off sale decision has led to an uprise in illegal ivory heading to China. EIA opposes a relaxation of the ban on ivory trade as it will place an enormous burden on enforcement officers in China, as well as other parts of the world.”