Dan Stiles (Kenya)

China’s Ivory Ban: A Work in Progress

I feel compelled to comment:

“However, without the legal ivory trade, illegal ivory trafficking has grown. For the 2017 ban to have a meaningful effect, China will need to clamp down on its illegal ivory trade as well.” – True. Before China closed its legal market, it made up about 10% of total sales, while the illegal market was 90%. Now 100% is illegal, congratulations.

“Initially many countries in Africa reported the ban as being incredibly effective and that it helped stabilize their elephant populations.” – False. The countries with growing elephant populations before the ban in southern Africa continued to grow, those with falling elephant populations in West and Central Africa before the ban continued to fall after the ban. East Africa was the only sub-region that stabilized (3 countries). In the late 1980s, there were an estimated 6250 wild elephants in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, declining by two-thirds to approximately 1510 in 2000. See http://danstiles.org/publicatio…/ivory/09.Env.Cons.final.pdf

“The explosion in ivory smuggling created by the ivory ban in 1990 and then the revival of Chinese interest in ivory in 2008 created a lucrative business for would-be fisherman who found elaborate ways to take illegal ivory from Africa … and bring it to China, where it could be sold legally.” – Partially true. The 1990 ban did create ivory poaching and smuggling networks, but only tiny amounts of the illegal ivory could have entered the legal market, which consisted at its height of only 144 legal outlets in all of China, which were monitored. The vast majority (99%+) of illegal ivory was (and is) being sold online and through personal contacts, and more recently in ‘sin city’ resorts established across China’s border in Laos and Myanmar.

“The town of Shuidong originally specialized in sea cucumber shipments, for which their fisherman made frequent and long trips to the islands of Zanzibar in Tanzania and the port of Mombasa in Kenya. Now these former sea-cucumber fisherman have an elaborate transportation route through which they ship raw tusks from the coastal city of Pemba in Mozambique, to South Korea, where they are less likely to be searched by customs officials.” – The Shuidong Chinese are not fishermen, they buy from fishermen. They are traders (middlemen). They were based in Zanzibar and moved to Pemba in 2015 when law enforcement cracked down (and Yang was arrested). A section has since moved to Lagos, Nigeria, but it seems they have been arrested. The South Korea transit point was brief, it is no longer used.

“National Geographic commented further … the poll also found that only 8 percent of the people polled knew about the ban.” – If in 2018, after all of the demand reduction campaigns in place for years, only 8% of Chinese polled even knew that an ivory ban existed, how many Chinese consumers might have known of the legal ivory sales in 2008 in Africa? Even 1%? Ban proponents assert that the legal sales sparked huge demand, which in turn set in motion the poaching crisis. But if few Chinese were aware of it, how could that be true? There is an alternative explanation – see

Here’s where things get really comical: “… a report done by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and “TRAFFIC” …. found that eight out of 10 people interviewed agreed that the ban “will make them completely stop buying ivory… suggesting that the ban has a significant impact on the reported purchase intention.”

Followed by a later study: “another investigation done by “TRAFFIC” found that even though all the legally licensed stores that they visited in 2017 no longer sold ivory in 2018, the total amount of illegal ivory pieces that they found had actually grown.“ – Actions speak louder than words.

Not comical: “the fact still remains illegal ivory sales in second-tier cities by local vendors do not seem to be affected [by the ban]. Equally as alarming was that 76 percent of ivory found in 2018 was “new ivory,” meaning it was harvested after the 1989 CITES ban.
All the ivory found in third-tier cities was “new.” Clearly the suppliers from whom the vendors are getting their ivory from are still poaching for new materials.” – China law enforcement of illegal ivory is mainly carried out in tier-one cities (e.g. Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou), not in smaller cities.

“The recent arrest of Yang Fenglan and the high-level approval by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is important because it shows not only that China is no longer participating in the ivory trade, but also that, at least at the highest levels of government, China is committed to wildlife conservation and supporting others in that effort — even if that means imprisoning Chinese citizens. .. the implementation of the ban and Yang’s arrest are signs that in the future China will take wildlife conservation more seriously. This bodes well for the elephants.” – False. I see few signs that elephant poaching is decreasing overall. As law enforcement becomes more effective in one area, poaching shifts to another.

I think it is too early to assess the full effects on poaching of domestic ivory market closures in China, the U.S. and elsewhere, but up to now the signs are not good. Trade bans of any desired commodity have a very poor track record of working. They usually have negative knock-on side-effects of organized crime and corruption that outweigh any benefits that may be derived from prohibition.