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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book 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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs