By Peter Li, Iris Ho
The survival of elephants has never looked so gloomy. Last Friday, Hong Kong customs announced the interception of one of the biggest consignments of illegal ivory in recent years. Altogether, 1,148 tusks were uncovered. Disturbingly, many of the tusks were reportedly taken from young elephants. Can African elephants survive the current madness of illegal poaching?
Worldwide concern is warranted. Hong Kong has been made one of the gateways for shipping contraband into the mainland and other places. Last October, Hong Kong intercepted the biggest consignment of ivory, weighing more than 3.7 tonnes.
These seizures only intensify the suspicion that individuals or businesses in mainland China are behind this assault on elephants. And critics are pressing China to do more to stop the carnage. The belief that China has been implicated in 40 per cent of ivory smuggling cases in recent years is telling evidence that demand in China is driving the slaughter on the African continent.
What are the factors underlying the Chinese demand for ivory? Economics has been singled out as an explanation. True. China's swelling middle class is sweeping across the world for luxury goods that include ivory. Wealth alone, however, cannot explain the seemingly insatiable Chinese appetite.
China's outdated wildlife protection law offers a clue. The law prioritises wildlife utilisation over conservation, and ivory artefacts are prized exhibits decorating guest houses run by the Chinese government. Ivory chopsticks are still used at official catering events. And, China was a major buyer of the "one-off" sale of ivory stock sanctioned by the Convention of the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) in 2008. More....