Myanmar a growing hub for illegal ivory trade; New report says

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Confiscated ivory.
Confiscated ivory. PHOTO/COURTESY: Reuters

Myanmar has been named the biggest supplier of African ivory in the Chinese market according to a new report released on Tuesday by Save the Elephants Foundation.

The report written by Lucy Vigne and the late Esmond Martin; who died under mysterious circumstances in Nairobi in February this year, is titled ‘Myanmar’s Growing Illegal Ivory Trade with China.’

It specifically points out Mong La, a town nearing the border of China, as an up and comer in the illegal ivory business with a 63 per cent growth in the illicit trade being recorded from 2015.

“Poaching is a problem for elephants in Myanmar but the country also provides a largely unchecked conduit for illegal African ivory carved in the region to be smuggled into China, in violation of International Law,” says Lucy Vigne, the lead author of the report.

“The authorities are not deterring ivory smugglers and trade in ivory and other endangered wildlife products that is running riot to meet the continued Chinese demand.”

According to the report, 90 per cent of illegal ivory buyers are of Chinese descent. Consequently, the report reveals that Chinese visitors holidaying at Mong La smuggle ivory into China’s borders without any fear of getting caught. The commodity retails at USD 770 (KSh. 77,739.20) – USD 800 (Ksh. 80,768)  per Kg.

Five out of eight cities that the researchers visited in Myanmar were openly displaying ivory products. The five cities had 51 shops that had put up 14,846 ivory items for sale. Ten open Chinese shops were also counted, nearly all specializing in selling ivory.

Despite China’s introduction of a ban on ivory trade this year, the report reveals that a lot has to be done to ensure the survival of a species that could go extinct if the trade is left unchecked.

“This new study from Vigne and Martin shows the scale of the challenge that remains for elephants in the face of the ivory trade. Despite great political commitment from the Chinese government and the moral leadership of influential citizens it will take continued united action to end the issue,” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Founder of Save the Elephants in a statement.

“China’s new laws have to be rigorously enforced, borders must be controlled and everyone must be made aware of the terrible consequences of buying ivory.”

Myanmar has the largest ‘domestic’, elephant population in the world with over 5,000 individuals having tamed elephants. Traders there say that the internal ivory trade is legal for trimmed domestic elephant tusk tips and from licensed animals that have died, and operate accordingly. Trading in the tusks of the remaining wild elephants in Myanmar – numbering perhaps 2,000 – is however illegal.

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