An international wildlife trade expert Monday accused the Sudanese army of illegally transporting ivory across Sudan to the capital, Khartoum, from where it is shipped to China and other markets.
Wildlife trade expert Esmond Martin told reporters in Nairobi, Sudan is Africa's main player in the world's illegal ivory trade.
He says the Sudanese army, in particular, is responsible for both killing elephants in southern Sudan to get their ivory tusks, and transporting ivory from Sudan and other countries in the region to the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.
"And who's transporting the ivory that comes in from the Central African Republic, that comes in from mostly the Democratic Republic [of Congo], Mr. Martin said. "And, again, we were told it was the Sudanese army. The Sudanese army has the vehicles to move the raw ivory up into Khartoum and Omdurman. Almost everybody we talked to said that the army was the major group of people who are involved in the transport, and also very much so in the actual hunting."
A spokesperson at the Sudanese Embassy in Nairobi told VOA, Sudanese officials are investigating the allegations, and plan to issue a statement on the ivory trade soon.
Mr. Martin, whose research is supported by the British wildlife charity, Care for the Wild International, spent several weeks in Khartoum and surrounding areas last month investigating the sale and trade of ivory, primarily by interviewing craftsmen, shopkeepers and others who work with the ivory.
Mr. Martin said he counted 11,300 pieces of carved ivory for sale in 50 shops in Khartoum and Omdurman, and that 75 percent of customers who purchase these items are Chinese, who live in, or visit, Sudan.
He said raw ivory sells at $105 per kilo in Sudan. In Africa, ivory comes mostly from the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as Central African Republic, Chad, southern Sudan and Kenya. A study by a British group, Save the Elephants, found that China was the main destination of illicit African ivory in 2002. China is the world's major importer of illegal ivory.
To fuel the huge demand for ivory in China and other markets in Asia, Africa and, to a smaller extent, Europe and North America, experts estimate that anywhere from 6,000 to 12,000 elephants are being killed each year in central Africa.
Mr. Martin said the illegal ivory trade fuels other negative trends.
"This illegal trade - and it's a massive illegal trade - is responsible for massive corruption and mismanagement in many countries, such as Chad, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo are the main ones, because to move all this ivory out of these countries is illegal," he said. "It's illegal to kill the elephants. People are being bribed, army people are involved, customs officers are involved."
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora outlaws the ivory trade worldwide.
Under Sudanese law, items made out of ivory can be sold in shops, only if the ivory pre-dates the 1990 ivory ban.