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Offline mayya

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From blood diamonds to blood ivory (PartIII)
« on: September 23, 2013, 22:19:23 PM »
From blood diamonds to blood ivory (PartIII)
August 25, 2013



A WORKER in China’s largest ivory-carving factory finishes a piece symbolizing prosperity. China legally bought 73 tons of ivory from Africa in 2008; since then, poaching and smuggling have both soared.

From blood diamonds to blood ivory (PartIII)

 Thousands of elephants die each year so that their tusks can be carved into religious objects. Can the slaughter be stopped? Some of these elephants and other endangered animals are killed on Zambian soil and this recently led to Tourism Minister Sylvia Masebo banning all hunting and that of big cats such as lions for a year.
 In this weekend’s in-depth, we bring you the final part of a National Geographic Special on the threat and danger African elephants faced.

 By BRYAN CHRISTY and Photographs by BRENT STIRTON, as captured on CNN.
 In every shop and factory I visit in China, a substantial portion of the inventory consists of religious carvings, including many of the most valuable pieces. Among the high-end buyers are military officers – surprisingly well paid in China – who give ivory to superior officers and companies that give carvings to other businesses and government regulators to influence them. “We call it the back door,” a representative of the government’s China Arts and Crafts Association (CACA) explained. And so ivory is used the way a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue might once have been, except that if the gift works, then ivory blesses its giver as well as its recipient.

 At a gallery in Guangzhou, Gary Zeng shows me a photo of a 26-layer “devil’s work” ball on his iPhone. The 42-year-old Zeng has just bought two of these ivory balls from the Daxin Ivory Carving Factory, one for himself and one on behalf of an entrepreneur friend. He’s come to this retail store to see whether he got his money’s worth. I climb into his new Mercedes, drive to his double-gated community, and watch as he hands the less expensive ball to his three-year-old for National Geographic’s Brent Stirton to photograph. It will become a centerpiece in a new home Zeng is building, to “hold the house against devils,” but for a moment the US$50,000 ball is simply a very precious toy. I ask Zeng why young entrepreneurs like him are buying ivory.

 “Value,” he replies. “And art.”
 “Do you think about the elephant?” I ask.
 “Not at all,” he says.
 On the corner of one of the most popular ivory-selling streets in China, outside the Hualin International Buddhist jewelry arcade, a four-story electronic billboard runs a video announcing to passersby a hot new investment opportunity: Sales of Buddhist jewelry and related religious products have reached US$15.8 billion a year and are growing by 50 percent a year. “There are nearly 200 million Buddhism believers in China,” the sign declares. Inside the building two stores deal exclusively in ivory carvings. Down the street other galleries offer Buddhist ivory carvings – some legal, some not.
 Everything about China’s ivory industry is poised for growth. The government has licensed at least 35 carving factories and 130 ivory retail outlets and sponsors ivory carving at schools like the Beijing University of Technology. Most telling of all, as in the Philippines, Chinese carvers such as Master Li are training their relatives – they’re investing in their own blood.

 THE JAPAN EXPERIMENT

 In 1989, after ten years during which at least one elephant died every ten minutes, President George H. W. Bush unilaterally banned ivory imports, Kenya burned its 13 tons of ivory stocks, and CITES announced the global ivory ban, which began in 1990. Not all countries agreed to the ban. Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Malawi entered “reservations,” exempting them from it on the grounds that their elephant populations were healthy enough to support trade. In 1997 CITES held its main meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe declared that elephants took up a lot of space and drank a lot of water. They’d have to pay for their room and board with their ivory. Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia made CITES an offer: They would honor the ivory ban if they were allowed to sell ivory from elephants that had been culled or had died of natural causes.

 CITES agreed to a compromise, authorizing a one-time-only “experimental sale” by the three countries to a single purchaser, Japan. In 1999 Japan bought 55 tons of ivory for US$5 million. Almost immediately Japan said it wanted more, and soon China would want legal ivory too. If Kenya’s Daniel arap Moi is the father of the ivory ban, then Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe is the father of its first rupture.

 Before it would allow another ivory sale, CITES demanded the results of the Japan experiment: Had the sale increased crime? Specifically, had elephant poaching or ivory smuggling gone up? To find out, it launched one program to count illegally killed elephants and another to measure ivory smuggling. For a science-based organization, it was an odd way to conduct an experiment. CITES had approved the sale and had then set about constructing a way to gauge its impact, which is a bit like pushing the button to test the first atomic bomb and then building a device to measure the explosion.

 It’s easy to kill an elephant (lately poachers in Kenya and Tanzania have been using poisoned watermelons), but it’s hard to locate dead bodies, and it’s taken CITES years to get the counting program running. CITES officials refuse to issue a formal estimate of the elephants killed annually for fear that any number, which would derive from 2007 population estimates and limited 2012 poaching data, will “become embedded as hard truth in the public psyche.” Still, according to Kenneth Burnham, official statistician for the CITES program to monitor illegally killed elephants, it is “highly likely” that poachers killed at least 25,000 African elephants in 2011. The true figure may even be double that. Meanwhile, last year saw an estimated 34.7 tons of illegal ivory seized globally. Using an Interpol rule of thumb that says seized contraband equals 10 percent of actual smuggling, and assuming that each elephant carries 22 pounds of ivory, that weight equates to 31,500 dead elephants. “The point is this,” says Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants, “tens of thousands of elephants were killed last year. And the figures are going up drastically.”


 Quantifying the illegal ivory trade is difficult too. Smugglers don’t file sales reports. To estimate smuggling activity, CITES uses ivory seizures as a proxy. Even as a proxy, seizures are tricky. They accurately tell you only the bare minimum of illegal activity going on in a country, and there’s a lot they can’t tell you. More ivory seizures in one year can mean that smuggling has increased, or that law enforcement is working harder, or both. Fewer seizures can mean what you might hope, but they can also mean that law enforcement is on the take. Big-time smugglers have connections in local wildlife departments, customs offices, and freight-forwarding and transportation companies that enable them to move multi-ton shipments from one country to another. (In the Philippines, for example, ivory traders I met accused customs officers of seizing illegal ivory only when someone hadn’t made a payoff.) Worst of all, a seizures-based system rewards countries for confiscating ivory, when what they really need to do is follow smuggled ivory up the demand chain to the kingpins, a reason good investigators consider seizures to be bad law enforcement.

 To audit ivory seizures, CITES engaged Traffic, an NGO that monitors global wildlife trade. Traffic is not an independent auditor, however. It is a subsidiary of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which, like many NGOs, have research projects and offices in ivory-trafficking countries, complicating Traffic’s ability to render independent judgments. Traffic based its new ivory-seizures monitoring program, the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), in Africa’s leading pro-ivory-trade country, Zimbabwe.

 From the beginning, Traffic boasted that its ETIS database extended back to the 1989 ivory ban, but countries were not asked to report ivory seizures to ETIS until 1998. For a decade its data came from random Traffic surveys, and it had scant data on seizures by key countries, such as Japan (20 cases in a decade), Thailand (21 cases), the Philippines (5 cases), and China (2 cases). Even after ETIS was up and running, many governments rarely bothered to report their seizures, so when it was time to judge the Japan experiment, Traffic’s database was heavy on cases from the US and European Union (more than 60 percent) and light on cases from where it mattered: Asia (less than 10 percent). ETIS had no good baseline to judge the effects of the Japan sale.

 CITES might have taken a holistic approach to the Japan experiment, combining reports of international NGOs, whose undercover investigators found an increase in illegal ivory trade after the Japan sale, with data from Traffic, whose ETIS statistics did not show a definite correlation between the Japan sale and seizures. It might have recognized the limitations of ETIS – whose core metric, seizures, is, after all, controlled by the countries being evaluated. Since CITES also had problems calculating how much elephant poaching was going on, it might have declared the Japan experiment inconclusive, or even a failure.

 A failure is what China considered it. In a 2002 report China warned CITES that a main reason for China’s growing ivory-smuggling problem was the Japan experiment: “Many Chinese people misunderstand the decision and believe that the international trade in ivory has been resumed.” Chinese consumers thought it was OK to buy ivory again.
 CITES ignored China’s warning and placed its faith entirely in the ETIS statistics. “The data we have from ETIS is that there is no correlation between decisions made at CITES and the illegal trade,” Willem Wijnstekers, CITES secretary-general, would later assert in anticipation of more CITES-approved ivory sales. Tom Milliken, director of ETIS, would likewise suggest that the Japan sale had worked: “It is encouraging to note that the illicit trade in ivory progressively declined over the next five years.” But Milliken didn’t know what the illicit trade had done; what he knew was his seizure statistics. Nevertheless a judgment was made, and the future of the African elephant may forever be clouded by the moment when CITES, lacking the data to evaluate the impact of its first ivory sale, endorsed a second.

 By 2004 China had forgotten its concerns and petitioned CITES to buy ivory. In March 2005 CITES sent a team of three people, including Milliken, to China for five days to evaluate its ivory-control system. The team returned “more than satisfied” and predicted that China’s system could “eradicate, or at least significantly reduce, illicit trade.” They also noted, however, that two successive ETIS reports had found that China was the single most important reason the illegal ivory trade was increasing. The CITES secretariat therefore refused China’s request to buy ivory.

 But ETIS could be manipulated. It scored countries not only on ivory seizures weight but also on law enforcement. It was possible to game the ETIS system by reporting lots of small seizure cases, such as a tourist wearing ivory earrings. “Tom Milliken told me to make raids on Chatuchak [a Bangkok market] to get my cases up,” a frustrated Thai official told me. In 1999, the year of the Japan sale, China had reported seven ivory seizures to ETIS. Soon after it petitioned CITES, China was reporting dozens of cases a year to ETIS, most the personal effects of tourists. Recently it has been reporting hundreds of cases a year. This past February China made public one of its big ivory-enforcement efforts of 2011, involving 4,497 personnel and 1,094 vehicles and leading to 19 cases. It had resulted in the confiscation of 63.5 pounds of ivory, the weight of an overfed poodle.

 In July 2008 the CITES secretariat endorsed China’s request to buy ivory, a decision supported by Traffic and WWF. Member countries agreed, and that fall Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe held auctions at which they collectively sold more than 115 tons of ivory to Chinese and Japanese traders.
 As a test for whether ivory sales increase crime, the Japan experiment was flawed. As a prognosticator for China, it had deeper problems. Japan is an island nation with a narrow primary use for its ivory: signature stamps called hanko. China shares borders with 14 countries; it has a vast coastline, a booming economy, 10 times the population, a separate system for ivory-loving Hong Kong, extensive investment in Africa, and uses for ivory ranging from sculptures to cell phone covers. After Japan bought ivory, China said its smuggling problem went up. Now China itself was entering the ivory business. CITES urged the world not to worry.

 
DEVILS LURK IN DETAILS

 Meng Xianlin is executive director general of China’s CITES management authority, making him China’s top wildlife-trade official. He attended the 2008 ivory auctions in southern Africa. Over sheep tripe and noodles near his Beijing office, he shares a startling secret with me: The African auctions had not been competitive. Before they left for Africa, the Japanese team of buyers flew to Beijing, where they made a strategic suggestion. Since Japanese use primarily medium-size, high-quality tusks for hanko and Chinese prefer either large, whole tusks for big sculptures or small pieces for decorative touches, the Japanese proposed that each country bid on separate types of ivory and keep all the prices low. The prices they paid were so low, Meng tells me, that an official from Namibia, which had held the first auction, followed the Asian delegations from country to country hoping for evidence her country had been cheated.
 Still, to the CITES secretariat, the auctions had been a success. They’d raised US$15.5 million, most of which was supposed to go to African conservation projects. And while an average price of only about US$67 a pound for the ivory meant that the Africans had less to spend on conservation, it also meant, according to CITES, that China could now do its part for law enforcement by flooding its domestic market with the low-priced, legal ivory. This would drive out illegal traders, who CITES had heard were paying up to US$386 for a pound of ivory. Lower prices, CITES’s Willem Wijnstekers told Reuters, could help curb poaching.

 Instead the Chinese government did the unexpected. It raised ivory prices. Through its craft association, CACA, the government charged entrepreneur Xue Ping US$500 a pound, a markup of 650 percent, and imposed fees on the Beijing Ivory Carving Factory that brought the company’s costs to US$530 a pound for Grade A ivory. China also devised a ten-year plan to limit supply and is releasing about five tons into its market annually. The Chinese government, which controls who may sell ivory in China, wasn’t undercutting the black market – it was using its monopoly power to outperform the black market.

 Applying the secretariat’s logic that low prices and high volumes chase out smugglers, China’s high prices and restricted volumes would now draw them in. The decision to allow China to buy ivory has indeed sparked more ivory trafficking, according to international watchdog groups and traders I met in China and Hong Kong.
 And prices continue to rise. According to Feng You Min, sales director at the Daxin Ivory Carving Factory, the price of raw ivory has risen to 20 times the price paid in Africa. The genie cannot be returned to her bottle: The 2008 legal ivory will forever shelter smuggled ivory.

 There is one final flaw in the CITES decision to let China buy ivory. To win approval, China instituted a variety of safeguards, most notably that any ivory carving larger than a trinket must have a photo ID card. But criminals have turned the ID-card system into a smuggling tool. In the ID cards’ tiny photographs, carvings with similar religious and traditional motifs all look alike. A recent report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare found that ivory dealers in China are selling ivory carvings but retaining their ID cards to legitimize carvings made from smuggled ivory. The cards themselves now have value and are tradable in a secondary market. China’s ID-card system, which gives a whiff of legitimacy to an illegal icon, is worse than no system at all.

 Just before elephants were discussed at an August 2011 CITES meeting, China orchestrated the expulsion of all attending NGOs. It was an extraordinary act. Among those expelled were representatives of the Born Free Foundation, the Humane Society International, the Japan Federation of Ivory Arts and Crafts Associations, the Pew Charitable Trust, Safari Club International, and me (for the National Geographic Society). Traffic’s Tom Milliken was allowed to remain to deliver his latest ETIS results. The reason for the expulsion, Meng tells me, was a report by a small but influential London-based NGO, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), which had sent undercover Chinese operatives into China. EIA alleged that China’s ivory-control system was a failure, that up to 90 percent of the ivory on the Chinese market was illegal, and that the 2008 auctions had resurrected the illegal ivory trade. Meng was outraged. Yes, he said, 80 percent of EIA’s report was true, “but they should have come to us first.”

 Last year CITES made a startling admission: “The Secretariat continues to struggle to understand many aspects of the illegal trade in ivory.” This past April, Tom Milliken confessed something to the BBC that was eerily reminiscent of China’s warning after the Japan experiment: “Did allowance of legal ivory to go into China exacerbate a situation? One could probably argue now, with hindsight, that indeed it did. It created perhaps an image in the minds of many potential Chinese consumers that it was OK to buy ivory.”

 Meng chuckles as I pour him another bottle of beer. He tells me that after the African ivory arrived in China, a strange sound could be heard coming from one shipment. It took some time to discover the source. During the bidding South Africa’s ivory had looked the best and the whitest. Now some tusks were splitting open. “You could hear it cracking,” Meng says. To get a good price, he speculates, the South Africans had bleached their ivory white, and now dehydration was causing the tusks to crack.

 Even more precious than the savanna elephant’s white ivory is the yellow ivory of the smaller, forest elephant. “This is the best,” the Daxin Ivory Carving Factory’s Feng tells me, holding up a chunk of forest elephant tusk. Carvings made from forest elephant ivory sell out so quickly that customers have been commissioning them. The only carved image he has left to show me is an old one of Chairman Mao with a crack in it. Trouble is, forest elephants don’t live in any of the countries where China legally bought ivory. They live in central and western Africa, including in Cameroon, the country raided by Muslim poachers earlier this year.

 In March CITES will meet again to discuss the future of the African elephant. – National Geographic/CNN/Sunday Mail

http://www.daily-mail.co.zm/breaking-news/21779