By Brendan Moyle
As part of the ongoing investigations of the ivory markets in China we have been visiting carving factories. We’re slowly getting through them. Of late we have also been interviewing every carver about their output, experience and when they started their employment. To date, that is about forty carvers we’ve interviewed. This gathers valuable information about the throughput of ivory in factories and how experience and the type of carvings affects this. This tests the feasibility of turning the large volume of illegal ivory exported out of Africa since 2009 into carvings.
This series of photos all came from Beijing ICF. Just before the 1990 CITES ban, this factory employed 800 people, of which 650 were carvers. Prior to the 2008 CITES decision to allow a one-off sale of ivory to China (and Japan) the factory was down to 8 carvers. This factory so far is unusual because the carvers do nearly all the work. In other factories the carvers just carve the pieces, while specialised polishers finish the piece by, well, polishing it.
As is typical of many legal factories the output is with larger pieces. Most carvers do not produce small generic items like chopsticks or necklaces. New carvers were added in 2009 and none since. As the pictures show, a factory is not a large establishment. Production while aided with power tools now, is still artisanal. Pieces will often take months to complete. Even though it is not a large enterprise, this company is one of the largest ivory factories in China. The company contributed financially to the 2008 purchase of ivory from four Southern African countries. It is one of the core-firms in this market. Photos.
I think this gives a good idea of the size and scale of the factories involved here.