China’s involvement in illegal ivory trade

18 Feb

China has a long history of ivory trade, going back to ancient tribes that used it a tool for commerce. This process is thought to have had a large part in the diffusion of these different cultures . As well as this, the Chinese have a well established past of artistic ivory carving, using it for accessories and to adorn woodwork (Bishop 1921). The demand for ivory in modern China is increasing. For the emerging middle class ivory is viewed as a status symbol. It is also considered to bring good fortune, so it is often used a bribe or gift in business transactions (BBC 2014).  Although with elephants becoming increasingly more endangered the Chinese Government is experiencing international pressure to clamp down on the illegal smuggling and selling of ivory artifacts (New Scientist 2014).

In 2008 the Government purchased 62 tonnes of ivory in the hope that having this legal supply would satisfy consumer need and therefore stop the demand for poached ivory (The Telegraph 2014). However, it resulted in customers confusion over whether elephants were actually endangered. It also meant a re-invigoration in the ivory market leading to opportunities for black market sellers. This Government purchased ivory is sold in around 150 licensed shops. These artifacts have to be sold with a photographic identification, however it is a common scam to use old ID’s to sell new, illegal items (BBC 2014). The Government makes a profit from the sales of these shops, which may explain their reluctance to completely shut them down (Telegraph 2014).

China’s society and economy has been completely modified over the past few decades so it is understandable that laws such as those on ivory sales have not been the countries top priority (Telegraph 2014). Although recently, the Government has been more proactive. As a nation that is known for the conservation of the giant panda, they do not want to be seen to be aiding the extinction of the widely adored African elephant (Telegraph 2014). In January 6.2 tonnes of seized ivory trinkets were publicly crushed. This action had extensive media coverage and in a country where the state still very much shapes public opinions on issues, it is expected to have a widespread effect (New Scientist 2014). Additionally, since last September, a message warning individuals of the danger of carrying illegal ivory is sent to every Chinese mobile phone that visits Kenya (Telegraph 2014).

 

The elephant and its ivory in Ancient China. Carl W Bishop 1921. Journal of the American Oriental Society. Vol 41 290-306

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http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn24823-china-steps-up-efforts-to-combat-ivory-smuggling.html#.Uv5HAbQYvfc. Accessed on 17 February 2014

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-26167893. Accessed on 17 February 2014

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/10636306/Ivory-trade-Can-China-get-tough-on-tusks.html. Accessed on 17 February 2014.

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