By Vidhi Doshi
On Friday, three men from the Fujian province in China, named Chen, He and Zhao were sentenced for smuggling a total of 7.7 tonnes of ivory from Africa to China. The trio's activities account for the deaths of 819 African elephants, over a period of six months in 2011, which was already labelled an annus horriblis by the wildlife trade monitoring network, TRAFFIC - the worst year for elephants since records began. The landmark sentencing is a victory for wildlife protection authorities in China, where the illicit ivory trade is thriving. However, under-funded wildlife authorities across the world are scratching their heads about how to regulate the illegal wildlife trade as it moves online.
The role of crime syndicates such as the Fujian trio, in the illicit trade of wildlife is becoming increasingly clear. The New York Times recently compared the ivory trade with Sierra Leone's blood diamonds: a "conflict resource", which is luring in notorious armed groups such as Lord's Resistance Army, the Shabab and Darfur's janjaweed. These groups are plundering Africa of its most majestic beasts; hunting down elephants and selling their tusks to fund militant movements and bring weapons and disorder into war-torn regions of Africa.
As elephant populations disappear rapidly, the illicit trade of ivory is growing. A report by Interpol and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) published last month noted that hundreds of ivory items, worth approximately 1.5million euro were being advertised for sale over a two-week period of online surveillance. In an earlier report, in 2011 IFAW reported that ivory was the most widely traded wildlife product on the Internet. IFAW found over 660 ivory products on various auction sites including Ebay, with no indication that the seller had supporting documentation to prove that the ivory was acquired before the 1989 trade ban. More....