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

ASEAN Ministers Set to Push for South China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party 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.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs