“Blood Ivory” – Huge seizure of Illegal Ivory in Hong Kong

October 22, 2012 — Leave a comment

An emperor, faced with the task of selecting a successor, devises a test: he lays out an array of valuable artifacts — items of gold, jade and ivory — and asks each of his sons to choose one treasure. One prince ponders his options for a while, before selecting an ivory scepter. The emperor is pleased. Ivory is valuable, he says, and also imbued with wisdom. The son with the scepter will rule. This, of course, is merely a fable. But the tale of the emperor and his son hints at ivory’s enduring lure in China. For millennia, it has been seen as a symbol of wealth, a source of wisdom and a sign of nobility. This helps explain why more than 20 years after an international ban on the trade of elephant ivory, the business is booming. “With more disposable income in mainland China, many people are flaunting their wealth, and ivory is seen as a luxury product that confers status,” says Tom Milliken of the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network. “We are seeing the worst poaching of elephants and the worst illegal trade in ivory over the last 23 years.”

Authorities in Hong Kong have intercepted one of the largest shipments of illegal ivory in history – 1,209 elephant tusks and ivory ornaments weighing more than 8,400 pounds. The Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department announced the seizure on Saturday of 3,813 kilograms of ivory hidden inside two containers shipped from Tanzania and Kenya. One container was labeled as carrying plastic scrap, the other was marked as dried beans.

It was the largest-ever seizure of contraband ivory in Hong Kong. Even within the context of soaring wildlife poaching, the numbers are staggering: the equivalent of more than 600 dead elephants. So lucrative is the ivory trade now that well-armed mafias have gotten in on the act. Hong Kong officials estimated the value of the seizure at 26.7 million Hong Kong dollars, or just under $3.5 million.

The customs agency, which said in a statement that it had “smashed” the ivory smuggling case, reported no arrests. But the South China Morning Post reported that seven people in China were arrested in connection with the seizure. Demand from an increasingly affluent Asia, improved international transport and trade links, and weak enforcement and feeble penalties (in many countries) have caused wildlife poaching to jump over the past decade or two.

More than 300 elephants were killed in Cameroon alone early this year. A video from the World Wildlife Fund shows some of that grim slaughter. In this article, published in September, Jeffrey Gettleman reported that ivory — like blood diamonds from Sierra Leone or plundered minerals from Congo — is now a “conflict resource,” used to help finance conflicts across the African continent.

“Some of Africa’s most notorious armed groups, including the Lord’s Resistance Army, the Shabab and Darfur’s janjaweed,” he wrote, “are hunting down elephants and using the tusks to buy weapons and sustain their mayhem.” Members of some of the African armies backed by the U.S. government, Jeffrey reported, also have been implicated in poaching elephants and dealing in ivory. Source: New York Times

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