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

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More