“Ivory Queen” Busted–Corruption and Tanzania’s ivory trade 落网的“象牙女王”

The recent arrest of the Chinese trafficker, nicked named  “Ivory Queen”  in Dar is a striking message among elephant conservationist and my fellow NGO colleagues. It is reported at least 706 elephant tusks worth about $2.5 million (RMB 19 million) was smuggled by her.

Yang Feng Glen, the 66 year- old Chinese business woman is thought to be the most notorious ivory trafficker arrested in Tanzania so far. She ran a sophisicated supply chain of ivory between East Africa and China for 14 years.  The insiders commented Tanzania authority finally caught a big fish!

It’s a very delicate case also because of the sophisticated connections between Yang and the officials working in the Chinese embassy in Dar. The ambassador of Tanzania commented on Yang’s arrest, “We welcome any enforcement effort from the Tanzanian authority, but in the meanwhile we want them to ensure suspect’s legal right. “

What I found interesting was that in 2014, Yang Feng Glen was invited as a railway expert for a wildlife conservation event held by the Chinese embassy in Dar. (see here:http://tz.chineseembassy.org/chn/dhwz/t1199994.htm) This close tie with the local officials really makes people wonder the real connections behind the scene.

Once convicted, Ms Yang will face 20-30 years in prison. Tanzania should really learn from its neighbour Kenay on elephants conservation despite the huge elephant population.

Stay Wild xxx

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Xi: ban domestic commercial ivory trade 中美象牙禁令解读

The state visit of President Xi Jingping may not achieve the fruitful result as the US expected, given China’s tough position on cyberattacks and the South China Sea issue, but the announcement of domestic commercial ivory ban indeed excited  the environmental groups. From what I see today, the internet is flooded with the words of praise, many call this action as a  “historical movement”.

My previous blog mentioned a brief timeline of China’s actions of this ivory war- several public destructions of the ivory products and a statement by the Premier Li Keqiang. It’s encouraging to see ivory has appeared to be a hot topic in the political discussion as well as in the public domain. The question now is, are words followed by actions?

Ivory use in China

Ivory carving benefits from the intangible cultural heritage, the official reason of the existence of the legal ivory market. Hence, the processing, sales and retailing of the legal ivory has received state support and permission. It began from the early 2000s, when the state started to make efforts to preserve the intangible traditional culture – an art form has thousands of years history. It is reported the state has also actively involved in the promotion of the ivory carving skills training to make sure it passes on. The need to sustain its cultural heritage was also the main reason given by the SFA when seeking CITES approval for the 2008 one-off ivory sale. To date, there are 34 ivory processing facilities permitted by SFA and134 licensed ivory retail outlets in China.

As both China and the US rank top 5 of the ivory consumption countries, the appeal reads as follows:

Wildlife Trafficking-  The United States and China, recognizing the importance and urgency of combating wildlife trafficking, commit to take positive measures to address this global challenge.  The United States and China commit to enact nearly complete bans on ivory import and export, including significant and timely restrictions on the import of ivory as hunting trophies, and to take significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory.  The two sides decided to further cooperate in joint training, technical exchanges, information sharing, and public education on combating wildlife trafficking, and enhance international law enforcement cooperation in this field.  The United States and China decided to cooperate with other nations in a comprehensive effort to combat wildlife trafficking.

I personally feel less excited with the wording used here, if it’s a ban of domestic commercial trade of ivory, then what else can exclude from this ban?There is no guarantee the non-commercial ivory trade will not emerge again in disguise of other purposes. Take tigers for example, tigers are listed under the state first class protection, which prohibits the any kind of commercial trade. However, the legal trade in its body parts and skins continue to persist under the cover of “for educational and scientific purposes”, which are primarily used as expensive home decor or business gifts.

Suggestions

It’s unfortunate the mentality of  utilisation of the wildlife products still persist in the majority of Chinese customers, and is largely encouraged by the state. The state could play a significant role in guiding the public’s opinion leads as well as conserve the intangible cultural heritage if it can achieve the following:

  • To move the domestic ivory trade away from the commercial use, SFA should immediately halt the new license issue to any ivory carving, process or retail outlets.
  • The existing stocks of ivory carvings should be preserved in a specialised museum, open to the public to truly achieve its conservational and aesthetic value.
  • Destroy the confiscated and seized illegal ivory stockpiles; send out a clear message to the international society that China hold the zero tolerance to the illegal ivory trade.
  • Review the relevant domestic laws and regulation as its legal basis.

Stay wild. xxx

Why we need to address illegal wildlife trade as a serious crime?

I believe many may have raised the questions, when it comes to conservation – why we need to concern about the wildlife thousands miles away? What impact will it bring if one species extinct? It is indeed not an easy task for the public to  visuialise this message and understand the serious impact it brings.

This fascinating video talks about how the wolves in Yellow Stone National Park changed the landscape of river, after they have been reintroduced to the area in 1995, 70 years after they had vanished from the area.This is a good example of how a single species can well maintain and restore the ecosystem, known to the ecologistis as a”trophic casede”.

When it comes to the illegal wildlife trade, the matter seems to be more delicate. We are not only talking about the ecological value of the species, so much more also need to be addressed, including the economic values, the political will, the perception of the public etc.

Illegal wildlife trade alone, excluding the timber and marine is worth $10-23 billion per year, ranking 3rd of the world illicit trade, right behind the trade in drugs and weapons. (Note: the figure here is controversial, some say it’s the 5th largest illicit trade in terms of the value.) It is such a lucrative business, and no doubt it attracts large criminal syndicates,knitting a global net of “transnational organised crime”. In Africa, ivory is also known as white gold fueling the civil war, paying off the arms for the rebels.It is very encouraging more countries have seen the massive impact and its caused effects. US and China, the top two ivory consumption both announced their commitment to putting an end to the ivory trade, though the actual actions are still in doubt.

Other species are not lucky as elephants, despite the slumping population in the wild, many still haven’t received the attention they deserve, for example tigers. As few as 3000 wild tigers, this majestic creatures are largly neglected in political dialogues. This month, President Xi Jingping will be visiting US and EU,which is a fantastic opportunity for the bilateral meeting in illegal wildlife trade as well as the domestic trade in tiger parts and derivatives.

Stay wild xxx

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

What do UK political parties say about illegal wildlife trade?

As many of you who live in the UK might be aware, the election just finished weeks ago, very chaotic day indeed.(Appoligies : this supposed to be live on the day before the election, but due to my schedule, it has to be a post-election blog)

David Camron has come back to Downing 10th to continue his government for the next 5 years. In order to get some votes from these conservationists, every party seems to have some wildlife-related manifesto. Comparing to education, employment, economics, wildlife policy definitely isn’t the most important in their agenda, but I managed to dig something out.

My office is a complete green one (not politically). We even have a worm compost in kitchen to minimize waste and to be more green. Surprisingly, not many will vote green though, perhaps because nobody knows what exactly their policies are.

 

Conservatives — traditionally considered not too green, however, during this election, Tories seems to put the full crack on and published a lot valuable manifesto related to wildlife. Stanley Johnson, father of Boris Johnson, yep the well-loved mayor of London, recently prepared a briefing to lobby MEPs to ban ivory trade in the whole EU. Willam Haugue, the second hand of Tories also attended an illegal wildlife trade workshop with Prince Willam last year in London Declaration. Both send out a clear message that the Tories do care about our lovely elephants and rhinos. As my colleague said, at least they are talking about the illegal wildlife trade.

Libdem— was the greener side of the coalition, who put the climate change to the agenda. When I searching the wildlife manifesto, Libdem claimed they will go further and faster to protect Britain’s wildlife. The news of Nick Cleggvisted a seal sanctuary in Cornwall to learn more about the harm plasticsdo to animals and to see first hand the work being done to protect Britain’s marine life. Catherine Bearder, an active conservationist but also an MEP from Liberal Democrats. She has been working closely with ENGOs to pass evidence to the European decision makers. Her latest agenda is to lobby governments to ban ivory trade globally.

Stay tuned ! Greens and Labours coming soon

Stay wild xxx

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

African elephants on the verge of extinction—blame China or Africa?

Recently, a Kenya conservationist Paula Kahumbu published an article on CNN, titled “We don’t buy panda products, so Chinese should keep hands off our elephants”, directly pointing at the biggest ivory consuming country.

She said due to the endless demand from China, the wild elephants are on the verge of extinction. Although numerous efforts were put in to saving wild elephants, unless the leading consumer of ivory- China- commits to put a halt on ivory trade, elephants will be doomed.  I believe her point probably is the mainstream view for elephant conservation every where except for China. However, what do Chinese actually think about it? To figure out this, let’s look at the official attitude from the China CITES committee and an online survey reflecting the general public’s opinion.

CHINA’s OFFCIAL ATTITUDE:

China’s high demand is not the only reason—responsibilities lie in every country

Meng Xianlin, deputy director of China’s Endangered Species Import and Export Management Office(濒管办常务副主席), the body of China’s CITES committee, who is also the representative at 2015 Kasane IWT Conference. He commented on African elephants conservation more than once in different occasions.  He stresses that China hopes that countries can improve coordination, do less finger pointing and make more joint efforts in fighting ivory smuggling globally and conserving elephant population.  The following are his comments made in 2013 and after Kasane Conference:

“We can’t simply attribute that to legal utilization and trade of ivory or to market demand. The fundamental solution to this problem must come from close cooperation among countries that hold elephant habitats, are transit points for shipments or are big consumers of ivory.”

“CITES came into force on 1st July 1975. The Pre-Convention wildlife product stockpiles held by western countries are still constantly being exported. In addition, 70‒80% of trophy hunting activities in Africa, including elephant hunting, which is legal in Zimbabwe, are undertaken by Europeans and Americans. The nature of trophy hunting activities should be re-evaluated, whether they are conservational or commercial. The prime responsibility lies in every country.”


Dr Meng’s remark acts as a whitewash, somehow blame other countries’ ivory policy rather than examine its own.  According to IFAW, China has replaced Japan, become the biggest ivory consuming country in the world, in which illegal amount is 6 times of legal one! China insisted it has the most stringent ivory policy, which can effectively regulate the market. However, the above data doesn’t agree at all. IFAW’s research showed it is a common practice that the licensed ivory shops usually secretly sell the illegal smuggled ivory with the shield of its legal license. The endless demand in China stimulates rampant poaching in another continent.

Poll: When the buying stops, the killing can too.

Tecent, the Chinese news portal started an online opinion poll on whether China should be responsible for the African elephants’ tragedy. Till now, more than 50,000 people voted, among which, 61% believed China is the one to blame, while 39% disagree.

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 15.33.21

Does China endangers African elephants?_ poll by Tecent

Those who disagree, argue that African countries fail to protect their own elephants. They should not blame their own faults to other countries. If poachers do not kill elephants for the pecuniary benefit, then no matter how big the demand is in China, there should be no ivory in markets to offer.  It is unfair to blame China if the sourcing countries cannot halt domestic poaching first. Other pro-trade parties interpret from an economic perspective, they believe it is the “zero poaching” policy itself to blame. The stringent ivory policy makes the ivory products “scarce”, which increases the trade cost also stimulates even larger demand.  BTW, I think this “economic illustration” is completely BS. I will blog about economic analysis of illegal wildlife trade in the future. Please Stay tuned: D

The poll result brings some pleasant comfort: majority of the general public believed in “when the buying stops, the killing can too.” China saved pandas from extinction, recovered Tibenten Antelope to 30,000 by 2014. China is capable and responsible to save African elephants. Reducing domestic demand and stronger law enforcement will be the next step.

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