Ivory Seizures Reflect a Thriving Bloody Ivory Trade

Once again, Hong Kong customs authorities have intercepted a large consignment of illegal ivory destined for ‘consumers’ in the Far East. On 30th April a shipping container labelled as containing 'spare parts' and originating from Burundi and bound for Singapore, was found to contain 113 pieces of tusks.

Burundi no longer has elephants, but retains a massive stockpile of historic ivory, having been an important trade hub before the ivory ban in 1989. It is possible that this ivory may have been ‘leaked’ from this source and, if this is the case, this highlights the need to register, secure and ultimately destroy all ivory stockpiles. Along with Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, Hong Kong is one of the key transit countries for illegal shipments of ivory in Asia, especially for ivory heading to mainland China. Just two seizures towards the end of 2012 netted over 5.1 tonnes.

Customs and wildlife law enforcement agencies around the world are engaged in a constant battle against the organised crime syndicates that are behind the illegal ivory trade, seeking to expose and dismantle the supply and demand chain. It’s a dangerous job and lives are at risk - these agencies deserve our congratulations, support and encouragement.

As a result of such seizures, it might be tempting to assume that the ivory markets are being hit hard. However, the sad fact is that the seizures represent only a fraction of the true volume of ivory being illegally traded  - some say as little as 10% - and prosecutions rarely convict the ‘kingpins’ behind the trade. Concerted, coordinated international enforcement effort needs to be increased if we are to turn the tide, strangle the illegal trade, deter the poachers and save elephant lives.

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