Tanazania ivory: China officials ‘went on buying spree’

Ivory tusks seized during an anti-smuggling operation are displayed during a Hong Kong Customs press conference on October 20, 2012Campaigners say rising demand in Asia is fuelling the poaching of elephants in Africa and the smuggling of ivory

Officials travelling to Tanzania with Chinese President Xi Jinping went on a buying spree for illegal ivory, an environmental activist group has said.

In a report, the Environmental Investigation Agency cited ivory merchants who said demand from the delegation in 2013 had sent prices soaring.

China denies the allegations, saying it consistently opposes poaching.

Conservationists say demand for ivory is fuelling poaching in Africa.

China is viewed as the biggest market for illegal ivory. The Chinese use ivory in traditional crafts and carvings which are prized as status symbols, correspondents say.

In recent years poaching has increased across sub-Saharan Africa, with criminal gangs slaughtering elephants for ivory.

‘Security checks averted’

The EIA report cited a trader in Tanzania’s main port city, Dar es Salaam, named as Suleiman Mochiwa, who met undercover investigators.

He said that when the Chinese government and business delegation arrived, ivory prices in the local market doubled to $700 (£438) per kilo during the visit.

Workers destroy illegal ivory in Dongguan, southern Guangdong province, China, Monday, 6 January 2014Earlier this year China for the first time destroyed a large quantity of confiscated ivory

“The [delegation]… used the opportunity to procure such a large amount of ivory that local prices increased,” the report says.

Investigators alleged that the Chinese buyers could take advantage of a lack of security checks for those in the country on a diplomatic visit.

“The two traders claimed that a fortnight before the state visit, Chinese buyers began purchasing thousands of kilos of ivory, later sent to China in diplomatic bags on the presidential plane,” the report added.

“When your president [Xi Jinping] was here… many kilos go out… many kilos. Half of his plane go with that,” one of the traders told the EIA investigators.

The trip was Xi Jinping’s first foreign tour as head of state.

Traders told the group that similar ivory sales took place on an earlier trip by China’s former President Hu Jintao.

‘Not believable’

“The report is groundless, and we express our strong dissatisfaction,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei is quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

The director of China’s endangered species import and export management office also dismissed the claims: “Allegations without evidence are not believable,” Mr Meng Xianlin said.

The ivory trade was banned in 1989 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites). Both China and Tanzania are signatories.

China does have about 150 legal, government-licensed ivory shops, which sell ivory collected prior to this. They are the only places allowed to sell ivory to individual buyers.

Earlier this year China for the first time destroyed a large quantity of confiscated ivory, in a public event described by conservation groups as a landmark move.

Just over six tonnes of carvings, ornaments and tusks amassed over the years were fed into crushing machines.

Nevertheless officials warn that demand for ivory across Asia has led to thousands of elephants being killed in Africa.



Chinese demand for ivory is devastating Tanzania’s elephant population

Chinese criminal gangs are causing Tanzania to lose more elephants to poaching than any other African country, says a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency

Ivory for sale in Chinese government store, as price triples in China in four years.
An ivory bust of Mao Zedong for sale in Guangzhou, China this year. Poaching driven by Chinese demand for ivory is putting the future of Tanzania’s elephants at risk, say the Environmental Investigation Agency. Photograph: STR/EPA

Demand for ivory from China is stripping Tanzania of its elephants and causing the East African state to lose more of the giant beasts to poaching than any other African country, according to a scathing report on the country’s illegal wildlife trade.

The Selous reserve in the country’s south has been the hotspot for ivory poaching, with elephant numbers there falling from around 70,000 in 2006 to 13,000 in 2013, according to a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

The London-based campaigning group says that seizures show more ivory is coming from Tanzania than any other African country. And it is unambiguous about who is to blame – Chinese nationals.

The report cites the case of Yu Bo, a Chinese national who was detained in December 2013 while attempting to deliver 81 elephant tusks to two officers from a Chinese naval task force on an official visit to the Dar es Salaam port in the Kurasini region. Yu was caught at a checkpoint after paying bribes totalling $20,000 (£12,500) at an earlier checkpoint, and subsequently sentenced to 20 years in jail after being unable to pay a $5.6m fine.

In November 2013, three Chinese nationals were arrested at a house in a Dar es Salaam suburb, where 706 tusks were found.

Market traders also told the EIA’s undercover investigators that during a visit by Chinesepresident Xi Jinping in March 2013 the black market price of ivory doubled to $700 per kilo.

Tanzania elephant population from 1976 to 2013
Tanzania elephant population from 1976 to 2013: Selous and Ruaha subsets. Illustration: Environmental Investigation Agency

The group’s executive director, Mary Rice, said: “This report shows clearly that without a zero tolerance approach, the future of Tanzania’s elephants and its tourism industry are extremely precarious.

“The ivory trade must be disrupted at all levels of criminality, the entire prosecution chain needs to be systemically restructured, corruption rooted out and all stakeholders, including communities exploited by the criminal syndicates and those on the front lines of enforcement, given unequivocal support.”

The report lays the blame for the country’s ivory trade problem on “collusion between corrupt officials and criminal enterprises”, accusing rangers, police officers and revenue and customs officers of corruption.

A spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry said it was “strongly dissatisfied” with the report.

“We attach importance to the protection of wild animals like elephants,” he said. “We have been cooperating with other countries in this area.”

Earlier this year the Chinese ambassador to Tanzania deplored the role Chinese nationals played in the country’s illegal wildlife trade, saying “our bad habits have followed us.” A Tanzanian government minister controversially suggested last year that poachers should executed “on the spot” to stop the slaughter of elephants.

The report also highlights underfunding for the Wildlife Division, which is tasked with protecting the Selous reserve, and says the agency saw funding drop $2.8m annually in 2005 to $0.8m in 2009 after funding raised from safari photography trips was scrapped. The agency has one ranger per 168 square kilometres rather than the recommended one per 25 sq km.

Chinese demand is stipping Tanzania of its elephants : herd in in Tarangire National Park
Herd of elephants in Tarangire National Park, Tanzania, 3 August 2008. Photograph: Ingvild Holm/Environmental Investigation Agency