September 08th, 2009 | China Daily Chinese in Kenya not involved in ivory poaching
A Chinese official Monday denied allegations that demand for ivory from Chinese workers is a main contributor to rising elephant poaching in Kenya.
Wan Ziming, director of enforcement and training at the endangered species’ office of the State Forestry Administration, said illegal ivory imports to China have declined significantly since 2000, despite smuggles from individual workers or travelers to Africa.
The country used to be the world’s largest ivory importer and ivory products exporter before the global ban in 1998.
“Now the amount of illegal ivory brought to China has been far less than many other countries,” Wan said.
He added about 30,000 kg of ivory was illegally traded to Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines last year, while China seizes about 300 kg of illegal ivory each year.
Wan’s remarks came in response to the latest blast from a Kenyan non-governmental organization.
Paula Kahumbu, director of Wildlife Direct, a Kenya-based non-government organization, was quoted by Reuters as saying that elephant poaching is rising in Kenya due to demand from an influx of Chinese workers into Africa.
Chinese nationals working on projects in Africa were placing orders for tusks with poachers, she said.
“There’s a massive influx of people, who are not very wealthy, who can afford to buy ivory at local prices and who make a lot of money out of it when they get it back to China,” she said.
East Africa is still recovering from extensive poaching in the 1960s and 1970s before the global ban.
In 1989, poaching had reduced populations to about 17,000 elephants.
Locals have received orders from Chinese people working on a road in northern Kenya, she said.
“I’ve been told up to 90 percent of seizures of ivory in this country are currently (from) Chinese nationals. To me, it’s very clear that there’s a link.”
Wan admitted the domestic price of ivory products is higher than in other countries, which might contribute to smuggling. He added the home market is also being powered by the rising demand of wealthy Chinese, he said.
The country is home to 20 to 30 ivory processing companies and more than 100 designated sales places, he said.
But Wan stressed China has cracked down on the illegal trade of ivory with great effort and has strictly followed international conventions. Last July, China became the second legal importer of Ivory after Japan, according to the committee of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
In China, laws prohibit transporting elephant ivory and perpetrators can be punished by up to 12 years in jail.
In August, Guangzhou Customs seized two passengers from Ethiopia carrying 8 kg of ivory products, marking the 139th and 140th ivory smuggling cases at Guangzhou customs this year.
By August, Baiyun airport customs in Guangzhou had seized 138 cases of ivory smuggling, totaling more than 182 kg, up by 90 percent year on year.
The 8 million yuan of seized ivory, including bangles, bracelet, sculptures, pen vase and chess, all came from African countries, the custom said.
Kunming seized Asian ivory of 36 kilograms worth 7.75 million yuan last December.
The court sentenced smugglers Wang Jinkai and Wang Jinfu to 12 years in jail and a fine of 12,000 yuan.
Ivory imports banned
Xu Hongfa, director of the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) TRAFFIC East Asia China Program said many Chinese working in Kenya are not aware that they should not take ivory back to China, despite government calls for banning ivory imports.
“So far WWF has not received any reports or evidence to accuse Chinese workers as the main driving force to the rising elephant poaching,” he said.
“In Kenya, ivory can be sold at local markets,” he said. “When Chinese workers brought it back, they did not know they were violating the law.”
Xiong Lei, a Chinese who traveled to Kenya last month, said tourists were told many times by their tourist guide “absolutely no purchasing of any ivory in Kenya”.
She said shop owners told her the ivory-like products on the shelves are “bones”, not ivory.
“But we did not even dare to buy any bone products,” she said.