Caixin Global (China)

An elephant in Tsavo, Kenya on March 13. Photo: IC

China’s customs administration has seized more than 500 tons of smuggled
endangered animal and plant products in 2019 alone, including 8.48 tons of
ivory, officials said this month.

The total weight of smuggled goods seized was 19 times that of the same
period last year, General Administration of Customs (GACC) anti-smuggling
department director Sun Zhijie told reporters at a press conference on
April 15.

Meanwhile the total weight of smuggled ivory was up a staggering 192 times.
Of the 182 smuggling cases investigated this year, 30% involved ivory.

The sale of ivory and ivory products has been illegal in China since the
start of 2018, amid a broader crackdown on smuggling, but the illegal trade
has continued. In March, China seized 2,748 smuggled ivory tusks, weighing
7.48 tons ? in the largest smuggling cases the country has seen so far this
year.

GACC has also seized pangolin scales, rhinoceros horns, totoaba swim
bladders, parrot eggs, and more in 10 major smuggling cases, seven of which
were in South China’s Guangdong province.

A wildlife conservation expert told Caixin that Guangdong is a major
gateway for smuggled endangered animal and plant products because transport
routes through ports, the air and overland are extremely dense and busy,
and its proximity to Hong Kong, Macao, and Southeast Asia facilitates
international transport. Smugglers conceal goods and use falsified customs
data to move them across international borders and into China.

Wang Wei, director of GACC’s ports supervision department, said the sheer
volume of people and goods passing through China?s borders each year makes
enforcing bans difficult.

In 2018, a total of 117 million shipping containers, 39 million vehicles
and vessels, and more than 650 million people crossed China?s borders in
both directions. “The trade volume of imported and exported goods and the
number of people entering and leaving the country has been continuously
increasing,” Wang said. “Customs is under a lot of pressure.”

Last September, international nongovernmental organization (NGO) World
Wildlife Fund (WWF) said that Beijing’s ban on ivory products “has had
positive effects” on the global ivory trade.

Only 14% of respondents to a survey commissioned by WWF and TRAFFIC, an NGO
working to prevent the trafficking of endangered species, claimed to have
purchased ivory in the past 12 months, a significant drop from 31% before
the ban was implemented.

However, many people in China do not take issue with buying products from
endangered animals, according to a report released last June. Of those who
had bought elephant products, including ivory, in the past year, 85% said
that the practice was socially acceptable.

The figures for buyers of rhino, pangolin and tiger products were 76%, 67%
and 69% respectively. Less than half of the population surveyed at the time
was aware of the new ivory ban.

A 2017 report from Los Angeles-based conservation NGO Elephant Action
League estimated China is the world?s largest market for rhino horn.

At the press conference, GACC Vice Minister Hu Wei said that the
administration will continue to crack down on illegal smuggling of
endangered animal and plant materials.

He said the administration will improve departmental collaboration,
strengthen port supervision, promote cooperation with international
anti-smuggling regulations, and increase public awareness of both the issue
of illegal smuggling and its criminality.