Ivory Crisis: A simple case of supply and demand.

Those of you who regularly read my blog will be aware I have more than a soft spot for Elephants. I’ve never had a favourite animal but I think the Elephant is fast becoming a contender. Like so many animals, Elephants have never had it easy and it seems things won’t get better any time soon.

A study published this year called The Ivory Dynasty, discusses the soaring demand for elephant and mammoth ivory in southern China. The results of the study are shocking. A 50% increase in the number of ivory items in Guangzhou (the largest city in southern China), is suspected to be a result of a wealthy Chinese population. In 2009 factory sales were low due to the recession, but have steadily improved in 2010 with an increase in Chinese buyers demanding luxury items. All ivory sold in China must carry an ID card, proving that it has been imported legally. Of all the Elephant ivory counted in Guangzhou and Fuzhou (a city famous for carving) 63% did not have ID cards and are therefore illegal pieces of ivory.

The only legal elephant ivory to enter China since 1990 was 62 tonnes of confiscated tusks, and tusks from elephants that had died naturally. This ivory came from southern Africa in 2009. Some experts believe this one-off shipment has fuelled demand for Elephant ivory. Mammoth ivory is imported legally from Siberia, to Hong Kong (to avoid import tax) and then on to China. The ivory then goes to various factories, usually in either Guangzhou or Fuzhou to be carved. Some experts have speculated that the increase in mammoth ivory objects may have taken away some of the demand for Elephant ivory. However, both types of ivory are in increasing demand with the rising wealth and population of China.

The Ivory Dynasty goes on to call for stronger enforcement of the laws already in place. The authors of the study recommend regular inspections of the small stalls and shops in market areas, as well as the shops registered to sell ivory. The authors also ask for mammoth ivory to have a similar ID card system, to stop elephant ivory being sold as mammoth ivory.

The final sentence of The Ivory Dynasty is “If Chinese officials and traders can tighten their controls and law enforcement; they can reduce the illegal ivory trade in China”. However, the chief enforcement officer of CITES (Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species) criticises The Ivory Dynasty’s recommendations stating that it is anti-poaching measures that will save Elephants. I am not sure I agree with either of these statements. The fact of the matter is that if the demand is there (I.e. people want ivory) there will always be someone prepared to supply it – whatever the cost. I believe it is the demand that must be stopped before there is any chance of stopping the trade. Saying that, it is easier said than done and as ivory becomes more and more difficult to supply, so the demand (or desirability) increases. Unfortunately for the Elephant, it is hard to see an end to this trade.


Further Reading

The Ivory Dynasty – http://www.elephantfamily.org/uploads/copy/EF_Ivory_Report_2011_web.pdf

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