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Conservationists Say China's Demand For Ivory Endangers Elephants

Conservationists say China's growing economy is fueling a demand for illegal ivory, which is endangering African elephants.

The founder of Save the Elephants, Iain Douglas-Hamilton, told reporters in Nairobi that people in China need to take measures to prevent the destruction of elephants in Africa.

"Clearly, the Chinese buyer, the Chinese market, has to be addressed," said Iain Douglas-Hamilton. "They cannot be addressed from Nairobi or London or New York - it is something the Chinese must do themselves. An international initiative to engage the Chinese civil society in drawing attention to the threat that the trade poses to the African and Asian elephants would fall on fertile ground."

Prominent Kenyan environmentalist Dr. Richard Leakey adds that, when the international ban against ivory was levied more than a decade ago, not many people in China could afford to purchase trinkets and jewelry made out of ivory.

But Dr. Leakey says that a swelling middle-income bracket there means that many people can now purchase the ivory, which he says is a big part of the culture.

According to research, between 5,000 and 12,000 African elephants are killed each year to supply illegal and unregulated markets in African countries, China, and Thailand with ivory. Most of the ivory comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo and other places in central Africa.

A research paper produced earlier this year estimates that several tons of African tusks are smuggled into China annually to supply illicit ivory factories.

Ivory items are also being sold in Germany, the United Kingdom, and other markets in Europe, but these are primarily made from pre-ban ivory.

In 1989, the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, known as CITES, instituted a global ban on the ivory trade after the death of millions of elephants at the hands of poachers.