Ivory is the new sought-after accessory for China’s nouveau riche and an intricately-carved tusk can be sold for as much as $1 million. Other buyers believe it is a powerful traditional medicine that can cure all sorts of ailments, including cancer.
The CEO of the International Fund (IFAW) for Animal Welfare, Azzedine Downs, says the fight to stamp out the lucrative black market is being co-ordinated by Interpol and the battle to get the “bad guys” has now gone hi-tech.
He told 7DAYS that confiscations en route do not help catch the big fish, adding: “Something that does help to uncover the culprits is controlled delivery, where the authorities find some way to mark the consignment, with GPS or other means, so that international law enforcement officers at the other end can track it.
“The shipments come mainly from Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania and transit through the Middle East or South East Asia.” He added: “There were even 10 rhinos killed in India during a week just a few weeks ago.”
The fight against the trade, which is diminishing the numbers of elephants and rhinos across the world, has also turned to DNA testing to discover exactly where the animals were killed - or if the tusks are antique.
Downs said: “It is really interesting that due to climate change, ivory tusks from mammoths are being found in Russia.
“Of course this confounds the regulations - smugglers are just saying ‘this is mammoth ivory’. So in cases where there is a confiscation, DNA testing is now required so we know where the ivory has come from.”
Downs, who was in Dubai this month after the latest CITES conference in Bangkok, said the ivory trade was discussed there, but decisions will be made about the ever-increasing problem at the next conference in South Africa in three years’ time. Meanwhile, IFAW has been instrumental in setting up a summit between the governments of India and Africa to be known as the International Elephant Congress in a bid to discuss long-term plans for conservation.
Dubai Customs was unable to provide figures for seizures of ivory in the emirate. However, figures from IFAW state that worldwide in 2012 approximately 16,000 tonnes of ivory was seized. This year, so far, the figure is 4.8 tonnes. There are between 470,000 and 670,000 African elephants left and just 52,000 in Asia.
For more information go to www.ifaw.org/international