News / Africa

Chinese Demand for Ivory Threatens Kenya's Elephants

A caretaker attends to a five-month-old abandoned elephant named Nchan at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust headquarters and elephant orphanage in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, August 2009. (file photo)
A caretaker attends to a five-month-old abandoned elephant named Nchan at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust headquarters and elephant orphanage in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, August 2009. (file photo)
Gabe Joselow

Officials in Kenya say Chinese demand for ivory has prompted a surge in elephant poaching and the illegal smuggling of elephant tusks.  Now authorities are looking at ways to curb demand and to better defend the elephant population.

Business is slow at an art market in downtown Nairobi. Some blame the falling value of the shilling, some blame the lack of tourists, but for whatever reason, artists are having a hard time selling their wood sculptures, their necklaces, t-shirts and paintings.

But one dealer, Harrison Onyango, said there is always demand for one forbidden item.

“Actually, the ivory trade is very much illegal here in Kenya, and we normally see tourists, especially Chinese, who are very much interested in ivory. But we normally tell them straight and up front that we don't deal in ivory because it's an illegal trade," said Onyango. "But to them they always insist and try and tell us just get me any type of ivory, I'll buy at any price, but we always try to tell them up front that is very much impossible.”

Stiff penalties, keen demand

Onyango said the penalties for selling ivory in Kenya, where the trade is completely banned, are so severe, it is not worth the risk.

But it is still being sold. Dr. Esmond Martin conducted a study of the illegal trade in conjunction with the British conservation group Elephant Family. He said ivory is typically smuggled out of the country raw and in bulk. It is taken to factories in China where it is carved and then sold out in the open.

Kenya Wildlife Service officers stand guard near a shipment of elephant tusks and rhino horns that were intercepted at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, in Nairobi, Kenya, August 2010. (file photo)
Kenya Wildlife Service officers stand guard near a shipment of elephant tusks and rhino horns that were intercepted at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, in Nairobi, Kenya, August 2010. (file photo)


“These shops are there to cater for Chinese and for foreigners, so nobody's going to hide ivory in the backstreet - nobody's going to see it - you see it everywhere, you see it in the most expensive hotels and in the most expensive areas in China, so we want the Chinese to implement their own law on the sale,” said Martin.

China won permission to import ivory in 2008 from an international wildlife trade convention known as CITES, after implementing a certification system labeling each legal ivory item with an official identification card.

Illegal ivory on upswing

Martin said since the ban was partially lifted, demand has increased in China, and he has seen evidence that more illegal ivory is making its way into the markets.

In his own surveys, Martin has seen a 50 percent increase in the number of ivory items being sold in parts of China since 2004, and that the majority of these are being sold without identification cards.

And elephants in Africa are increasingly threatened as a direct result.

“In the last few months, the elephant poaching has increased in parts of northern Kenya and this is due to various reasons, but most people think its due to the Chinese demand that's increased the price because most illegal ivory is going to China, it's as simple as that,” said Martin.

Fighting poaching

The Kenyan Wildlife Service [KWS] devotes much of its resources to combating poaching. KWS Species Expert Patrick Omandi said the agency has tried to raise awareness with the Chinese.

“We have hosted many Chinese delegations, you know, both from the private and the government sector, we've taken them through our challenges, and most of them, apparently, don't know that this ivory they use comes from poached elephants,” said Omandi.

A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Nairobi declined to comment on this topic.

Kenya has enjoyed a huge increase in Chinese investment in recent years, as Beijing looks to Africa for minerals and natural resources.  China has spent millions of dollars to rehabilitate highways leading in and out of the Kenyan capital, and other projects including a new hospital.

Protecting elephants


Omandi said Kenya's economy, however, relies on its tourism - 70 percent of which is based around wildlife.

“For us, we are seeing our elephants as the backbone of our tourism, the backbone of our economy, and we see that we can make better use of elephants when it is alive than when it is dead,” he said.

Omandi said Kenya lost more than 80 percent of its elephant population before the CITES convention and a worldwide ivory ban was put in place in 1989. But he said since the ban, the population has more than doubled.

He worries, though, that allowing the partial trade of ivory, and the increased demand in China, have opened the window for more illegal killing.




You May Like

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid