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Chinese appetite for ivory falls as global ban starts

By Jeckonia Otieno | April 1st 2017
KWS workers set up an ivory tower ahead of an elephant tusks and rhino horn burning event presided over by President Uhuru Kenyatta last year. [Willis Awandu, Standard]

NAIROBI: With the fall in ivory trade in China by nearly two thirds and the ban on global trade in ivory taking effect yesterday, wildlife conservationists are eyeing a bright future.

A new research released on Wednesday has found that commitment by the Chinese government to close all domestic trade in tusks and its products is paying off.

The new report by Save the Elephants’ consultants Lucy Vigne and Dr Esmond Marti details a decline in the retail market up to the end of 2015.

“The price of ivory is falling as people realise they have to get rid of the ivory they have before the ban on trade takes effect,” said Dr Martin of the University of Liverpool who has done extensive research on ivory trade in Africa since the 1960s.

Ivory is no longer sustainable for China since it has become a high risk, low return investment, the researcher say.

Martin found that the drop in price of ivory in China is directly proportional to the drop in poaching incidences in Kenya. The updated decline in wholesale prices was conducted in January 2017.

In early 2014, the wholesale price of tusks was Sh210,000 for each kilogramme, dropping to Sh110,000 in 2015. The latest update shows that by January, the prices had dropped to Sh73,000. China’s 34 ivory factories were expected to close by yesterday.

By the end of the year, the 130 retail outlets for ivory will be closed, dealing the final blow to ivory poaching which has led to a drastic decline in the number of elephants to just 415,000 globally.

“Findings from 2015 and 2016 in China show that the legal ivory trade, especially, has been severely diminished,” Vigne wrote in the report.

Some of the factors that have contributed to the drop in ivory trade include a slump in Chinese economy, which has made fewer people able to afford luxury goods like ivory and its products.

Public awareness

The drop in corruption cases due to sustained crackdown by the Chinese government has also dissuaded business people from buying expensive ivory products for government officials as favours.

Increased public awareness campaigns has also exposed more Chinese to the profound effects brought about by the trade, especially on Africa’s elephants. Small jewellery items were a top seller in ivory retail shops, with pendants being the most common item. Large tusks and figures were found only in licenced outlets where legal master carvers operate.

In Africa alone, the number of elephants killed each year ranges from 20,000 to 25,000.

An annual report by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) stated that 302 elephants were lost to poaching in 2013, but the number dropped to 137 in 2014. Kenya’s elephant population is estimated to be 38,000.

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