Sea Trade in Ivory Could be Declining
A report published ahead of next month’s meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), has documented an incremental decline in elephant poaching for the fifth year in a row, but overall poaching still remains at levels which suggest continuing elephant population decline.
The worst affected areas are in Central and West Africa. The situation in East Africa, however, is a bright spot. At three sites in Tanzania and one in Kenya fewer than half the number of elephant carcasses were recorded in 2016 compared to 2015. Tanzania remains the sub-region’s elephant stronghold although numbers in Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda are also stable or rising, as are some populations in southern Africa.
Despite the drop in poaching, overall, the analysis estimates that a record quantity of ivory may have been in illegal trade in 2016. This means that, even taking into account the impact of increased enforcement action, the overall quantity of ivory in illegal trade is likely now nearly three times greater than what was observed in 2007.
These record levels are partially driven by the 22 large-scale ivory seizures (>500kg (1,100 pounds)) reported in 2016- a record-number. CITES recognizes that seizures of 500kg or more are generally considered to be indicative of the involvement of organized crime. Overall, close to 40 tons of ivory was seized globally during the year.
Generally speaking, air cargo is more expensive and has stricter weight limitations than shipping by sea, but is usually not associated with the movement of large shipments of ivory. A comparison of 113 large-scale ivory seizure cases shows an apparent shift in mode of transport, with air freight increasing from seven percent in 2011-2013 to 30 percent in 2014-2016, while shipments by sea dropped from 70 percent to 44 percent. The report says more analysis is needed, but, whilst containerized sea freight still predominates in terms of moving large-scale shipments of ivory, illegal ivory consignments also appear to be increasingly moved as air cargo between Africa and Asia.
There is increasing evidence of ivory processing taking place within Africa to facilitate the smuggling of finished products to Asia, especially China and Hong Kong. Other findings indicate a wider shifting of ivory market dynamics, perhaps influenced by the prospect of forthcoming domestic ivory market bans in China and Hong Kong.
“Today’s findings show a volatile and unsettled ivory trade equation. A spate of positive policy changes and law enforcement actions have not yet suppressed record movements of illegal ivory, and trade patterns are shifting as traffickers struggle to find the path of least resistance to carry on,” said Tom Milliken, of environmental organization TRAFFIC.
“We’re not turning a corner yet on the elephant poaching, crisis and it is more imperative than ever to keep up the pressure to stop the poachers and ivory traffickers by addressing emerging trade dynamics, especially ivory processing in Africa for Asian markets and the scourge of social media trading channels which currently remain beyond the reach of effective law enforcement everywhere.”
Next month, the 69th meeting of the CITES Standing Committee takes place in Geneva, where among a range of issues, Parties will discuss what progress some 20 countries have made in implementing National Ivory Action Plans they were called upon by CITES to develop.