Is China really committed to eradicating ivory trade?

Late last month, at an event in Beijing, where foreign diplomats and conservationists witnesses 662kg of confiscated ivory being destroyed. Mr Zhao Shucong, head of China’s State Forestry Administration, said: “We will strictly control ivory processing and trade until the commercial processing and sale of ivory and its products are eventually halted.”

This act immediately received international applause. As the biggest illegal ivory consuming country, it is the second time China has openly destroyed its ivory confiscation. Let’s have a look at the time line of China’s recent actions against illegal ivory trade.

  • In Jan 2014, Chinese Customs burned down 6.1 tonnes confiscated ivory products in Guangzhou to declare the war with illegal ivory trade.
  • In Feb 2015, SFA issued a temporary one-year ban on processing or importing ivory for individuals.
  • In May 2015, Chinese Customs and SFA crushed 662kg confiscated ivory. China has committed to phasing out the domestic manufacture and sale of ivory products for the first time.

These actions are more than welcoming as a responsible country, however, no further timeframe was announced nor the detailed plans.In fact, on April 29 the SFA issued a new list of 34 ivory processing factories and 130 sales outlets, including entities associated with four publicly listed companies that have been officially authorised to process, manufacture and/or sell ivory in China.Right after China has committed to phase out ivory trade, an official called for US to act on illegal ivory trade too.

I personally think completely ending ivory trade is feasible in China given the attitudes from SFA and other authorities. They do want to tackle this problem, comparing to other species i.e. pangolins, tigers, rhinos ect. Ivory trade seems to be way less complicated and involving less interest parts. It is a matter of time and the commitment. If SFA only wants to provides an attitude of tackling this problem rather than supporting with detailed strategy and other substance, then it will never work.

Stay wild xxx

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To Burn or Not to Burn: African countries’ ivory stockpiles

Earlier this month, the Malawi government announced to postpone the scheduled burn of its domestic ivory stockpiles, the new date is yet to be set. The official reason of the delay was the need to include the outstanding 2.6 tonnes of ivory which is court evidence, which requires further audits and monitor under CITES.

Setting a fire on confiscated ivory is not news anymore. The current and previous Kenya presidents all set fires on ivory stockpiles before. The latest one happened in this march, more than 15 tonnes ivory were burnt into ashes.

There is also doubt of whether destructing ivory stockpiles really help the wild elephant conservation in the long run. The answer is a big fat YES from me.

Firstly, the poached ivory stockpiles have no economic value and are out of circulation. So burning out the ivory doesn’t mean the ivory is “wasted” from someone’s perspective, and it will not make the ivory more scarce. As I said, confiscated ivory cannot be seen as commercial products from a simple “demand-supply” angle.

Secondly, countries holding massive ivory stockpiles usually have less capacity or law enforcement power. In Africa, poaching and wildlife crime often are associated with corruptions, regional conflicts, drug trade and even human trafficking. Storing and managing tonnes of ivory for years is not an easy task, so destructive in one go largely eliminate the chances of “inside job” or theft. If the contraband makes its way back to the black market, the previous effort will be in vain.

Ivory stockpile destruction also sends out a powerful and unequivocal message to the public that these contrabands are the results of criminal activity and the countries are willing to fight against the wildlife crime. Even this action can be interpreted as a PR work sometimes. Their main argument is if burning out the ivory stockpiles are really effective, then it has been burnt out not once, not twice, but dozens times, why the smuggling and poaching rate still remain high?

High demand from east plays the vital role in here, which also stimulate the demand for either legal or poached ivory. China and Japan are the main ivory consuming countries, both claim have stringent domestic ivory policies. According to various surveys and field research the civil societies have done, it is not a difficult task to buy the ivory even on the street. Some shops use the government issued official permits as a cover to “whitewash” the illegal sourced ivory. Clearly, this parallel legal system fails to fulfill its responsibility and far away from curbing poaching. After the two one-off sales to China and Japan, pushed by pro-trade activist in 1999 and 2008, a spike in poaching has steadily increased to the point that the past 3 years have been among the worst ever for elephants.

Stay wild xxx

Is Wechat’s action on illegal wildlife trade just a hide-and-seek trick?

Hello, this is my very first blog. I want to talk about the China’s rampant online wildlife products and the influence of the Wechat recent action on banning the illegal wildlife trade.

This week, the mobile chat app Wechat, also known as the leading social media platform for online wildlife trade has finally taken action. It exposed 168 accounts that were allegedly associated with illegal wildlife sales, including the sales of ivory, mammoth ivory, rhino horns and helmeted hornbills. These accounts will be closed for 30 days. Wechat claimed they would work closely with scientific institutions and relevant NGOs and send out a clear message that Wechat has zero tolerance for illegal wildlife online sales. It also encourages users to report abuse once found wildlife products for sale.

Rhino horn carved ornament for sale on Wechat (picture from Wechat official weibo)

Ivory carved Buddha amulet for sale on Wechat (picture from Wechat official weibo)

This is an encouraging small step, given the contexts that Wechat as China’s largest mobile social media sent out a clear message to the public and set up a positive example.  I can see on Weibo many NGOs and activists forwarded this news and celebrated on that. However, the penalty of a 30-day suspension is far away from  adequate in my opinion. The 30-day suspension is more like a hide-and-seek game and these accounts are likely to be active again after 30 days. Once closed, the cost of setting up new accounts and keeping posting is very minimal. A conservationist I knew, had told me one of the sellers he has been tracking requested his current subscribers to switch to another account and the streams of offers continues as per normal.

For Wechat, a mobile app company, what else can it do? It is not the forestry police, it does not have the enforcement authority or even the capacity to verify authenticity of sale or products on offer. The current voluntary report abuse system is totally relying on users. It is fragmented and has little power to deter crime.  I am expecting the actual enforcement to take place that the forestry police work with the relevant interest parties together to effectively shut down these online hubs.

To give you guys a sense of the rampant online sales of wildlife products, let’s have a look at a recent report, TRAFFIC claimed social media had became the new heavens for the wildlife sales, with around 2000 monthly new added advertisements, in which most lead to social media for the final transaction.

Number of total illegal wildlife product advertisements in monitored Chinese-language websites (January 2012-September 2014) © TRAFFIC

We can see the online advertisements dropped a lot from 2013 thanks to a series of collaborative operations with traditional e-commerce giants: Alibaba, Tecent, Jingdong etc. Well, it’s hard to imagine what was it like before  2013.  Recently, the logistics industries also joint force in this war. With all of these efforts from different sectors, the key comes back to the China’s enforcement. It is the only force can take the lead in combating the illegal wildlife trade and engage all of these sectors.

I will keep a close eye on the follow-up enforcement if there is any. Stay wild xxx