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Countries in Asia, Africa and North America are joining forces in cracking down on wildlife crime
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Stopping Illegal Wildlife Trade
Cover Stories Series 2014> Stopping Illegal Wildlife Trade
UPDATED: February 18, 2014
Policy Response: Tackling the Trade at All Levels
By Katherine Lawson and Alex Vines

In January 2014 over six tons of confiscated ivory were publicly destroyed in Dongguan, Guangdong Province, a major hub of ivory trade in China. This landmark move represented the first time that this country, the lead source of demand for illegal ivory from Central and East Africa, has destroyed what is considered a popular commodity by the expanding Chinese middle class. This could well be part of Xi Jinping's anti-corruption drive, although no explicit links can be found connecting the two. A recent trend in high-profile celebrity involvement in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade has spread awareness of the issue among the general public, with globally recognized figures including the basketball player Yao Ming taking a stand against the ivory and rhino horn trade.

According to Haken (2011), the most lucrative products in illegal wildlife trade are elephant ivory, tiger bones and rhino horns, with demand falling into three categories: traditional East Asian medicine (TEAM), commercial products and exotic pets. China is the largest consumer of ivory products, and has used rhino horn for traditional medicinal purposes for thousands of years. In other Asian countries however, the use of products derived from endangered species has been falling. In South Korea, where tiger parts and rhino horn have traditionally been used for medicinal purposes, the demand for these products has decreased substantially since they were banned. Practitioners of Korean traditional medicine have cited the development of effective alternatives – such as herbal substitutes – as one factor contributing to this trend.

Much of the available literature on consumer demand for ivory and rhino horn products notes that this has been driven by a rising middle class in Asia with larger disposable incomes, although further explanation is lacking. One publication states that since 2004 there has been a 50 per cent increase in ivory items for sale in Guangzhou, an important ivory centre in China. There is a need for more empirical data to assess the rise in demand, and probably also for a wider literature review incorporating Chinese and Asian publications.

The Chinese Government restricts the selling of ivory to specific registered shops, and the shop owner must record how much is sold and to whom, labelling ivory items with ID cards. However, in 2013 IFAW found that '43 percent of urban Chinese are not aware of the government license system under which you can buy ivory legally but only in certain outlets', and that among past buyers, '18 percent bought ivory without receiving an ID card'.

Illegal ivory hotspots (which often overlap with the legal trade) where seizures have been made in Asia include Ho Chi Minh City in Viet Nam, where 7.28 kg of rhino horns were seized at HCMC airport in June 2013, and Hong Kong, where ivory worth $1.5 was confiscated in October 2013. According to Rosen and Smith (2010), most seizures reported by TRAFFIC of illegal wildlife products from 1996 to 2008 originated in Southeast Asia, and are trafficking from the ports of Kenya and Tanzania.

According to the Environmental Investigation Agency (2013), Viet Nam is the largest market for rhino horn from South Africa. Viet Nam has reportedly not seized a single illegally important rhino horn or prosecuted any traders since 2008. However, Milliken (2012) notes that while there is extensive research into the supply side of the rhino horn trade in South Africa, there is little empirical data for understanding Vietnamese demand. In order to create effective policies to tackle the illegal wildlife trade, it is necessary to investigate more fully the reasons for the demand for wildlife products, including from the perspective of the consumers, which is touched upon in Kang's traffic report.

Recent seizures across East Asia indicate that Asian governments are looking to take a public stand against the illegal wildlife trade. The public crushing of 6.1 tons of ivory in China, mentioned above, could signify a change in attitude. However, this accounted for a fraction of the 45 tons of ivory confiscated between 2009 and 2013 alone. The legal trade of certain types of ivory in China, including antique ivory, mammoth ivory and ivory obtained during the one-off sales in 1999 and 2008, operates in parallel with restrictions against the selling of all other categories. Unless China establishes one distinct rule prohibiting the entire trade, the message carried by public displays of ivory destruction will not trickle through to traders and consumers.

Other efforts to tackle the demand for elephant ivory and rhino horn have included recommendations from CITES. At the sixty-second meeting of the CITES Standing Committee, held from July 23 to 27, 2012, China was called upon to submit a review of its internal trade data and measures taken to comply with CITES Resolution Conf. 10.10 (Rev. CoP15), which sets out a range of measures to help regulate the trade in elephant specimens.

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