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SOS Rhino : In the News : Experts: Illegal ivory trade taking off

Experts: Illegal ivory trade taking off

Monday, March 14, 2005

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Poachers are killing between 6,000 and 12,000 elephants a year to supply illegal ivory markets in Sudan - among the largest in the world - to meet growing Chinese demand, experts said Monday.

Most of the elephants are killed in southern Sudan, Congo and the Central African Republic, with some ivory also coming from Kenya and Chad, said Esmond Martin, an expert on the illegal ivory trade who recently conducted a survey in Sudan on behalf of Care for the Wild International.

Martin said he found 11,000 ivory products on display in 50 shops in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, and in nearby Omdurman. He also visited 150 ivory craftsmen making new products, much of it jewelry.

Despite international and Sudanese laws forbidding trade in ivory outside of internationally supervised sales, traders and craftsmen openly displayed and discussed the industry with Martin and his team during their research last month.

"Practically every trader we talked to said the Sudanese national army was doing the killing in southern Sudan," Martin said. "Almost everybody we talked to said the army was the main group of people involved in the transport (of ivory from central Africa)."

The average price per kilogram of quality ivory has risen from about $45 in 1997 to $105 now, Martin said. The average price paid in central Africa, where the elephants were killed, is $20 a kilogram, he added.

"Over 75 percent of all of the ivory bought in Khartoum and Omdurman on the retail side is bought by Chinese people," Martin said. "They are not buying small quantities, they are buying huge quantities to take back home."

There are between 3,000 and 5,000 Chinese who live and work in Sudan, mainly in the oil, mining and construction industry. He said ivory name seals and chopsticks were recently introduced to meet Chinese demand for those item.

More than 50 percent of Africa's elephants were killed by poachers between 1979 and 1989, when an international ban on the ivory trade was introduced.

That poaching was driven by economic prosperity in Japan, but the current increase in demand is a result of China's growing economy, said Nigel Hunter, director of the Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants unit of the United Nations organization that regulates trade in wildlife.

Hunter said the Chinese government has stepped up efforts to intercept illegal ivory imports, but that Sudan has done little to discourage the trade. Shops throughout Khartoum advertise ivory and display items in store windows, though the Sudanese government pledged last year to crack down on the trade by March 31.

Sudanese officials were not immediately available for comment.

"All the Sudanese need to do is enforce their own laws," said Martin, whose research was financed by the British-based Care for the Wild International conservation group.

Martin also found rhino horn, crocodile and other products from endangered species on sale in Khartoum, despite international bans on trade in such products.

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