BOOKS: The Ivory Markets of East Asia

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2004:

The Ivory Markets of East Asia by Esmond Martin & Daniel Stiles
Save the Elephants (POB 54667, Nairobi, Kenya), 2003. 112 pages,

A week-long meeting of the 50th Standing Committee for the
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species concluded on
March 19, 2004 in Geneva, Switzerland, without authorizing South
Africa, Namibia and Botswana to sell 60 tons of stockpiled elephant
CITES in November 2002 approved the sales in principle, but
required that the ivory not actually go to the auction block before
May 2004, and not then unless a control system called Monitoring the
Illegal Killing of Elephants could be shown to be working properly.
The goal of MIKE is to prevent elephant poaching by identifying and
intercepting sales of ivory other than from the authorized stocks.
Uganda, Ethiopia, Mali, Cameroon, Tunisia and Ghana joined
Kenya in successfully resisting pressure from South Africa, Namibia,
and Botswana to allow the sales. Among the many Kenyans who had a
distinguished part in the successful outcome for elephants were
Esmond Martin and Daniel Stiles. Martin has been investigating
illegal wildlife trafficking in Kenya and Tanzania for nearly 40
years. The Ivory Markets of East Asia is at least his fifth book
about the rhino horn and elephant ivory traffic. Stiles’ relevant
experience spans more than 30 years.

Their belief is that the global embargo on ivory sales
initially imposed 15 years ago to protect African elephants is now
especially needed to protect Asian elephants, too.
“The 1990 CITES ivory ban had an immediate and profound
effect on elephant populations in both Africa and Asia,” Martin and
Stiles conclude. “International ivory trading plummeted from 1990 to
1995, with initial steep falls in the price of raw ivory in Africa.
Elephant poaching in Africa fell off dramatically in most places.
However, as African elephant populations in the eastern and southern
regions grew, populations in most of South East Asia declined, in
some countries by more than 80%.
“It appears that demand for ivory rose in Asia in the 1990s,
stimulated by economic development, motivating Asian elephant
poaching,” Martin and Stiles summarize. “Political instability in
some Asian elephant range states also contributed to poaching, The
decline in African ivory supplies prompted raw ivory prices to rise
in Asia around 1994/95. This price rise and renewed demand for ivory
motivated traders to smuggle more ivory from Africa to Asia. Where
data are available, they indicate that raw ivory prices and domestic
markets in parts of Africa began to rise from about 1995 as well.”
The rise in ivory prices, trafficking, and poaching
coincided with the first serious effort by would-be ivory exporting
nations to relax the CITES embargo–and presaged a trend. The
primary demand for ivory is not, after all, for use in producing
consumer goods. Rather, ivory is purchased primarily in
speculation, which as yet has been little influenced by the evidence
Martin and Stiles have collected from Japan, China, Hong Kong,
Korea, and Taiwan that the quality of ivory carving skill has
substantially declined. Ivory acquisition at all levels appears to
be motivated less by desire for ivory goods than by desire to possess
contraband which at some future date may gain value precisely because
it is inaccessible –either because it is contraband or because wild
elephants are extinct.
“I found 35,000 pieces of ivory for sale in Hong Kong,”
Martin told Julianna Kettlewell of the BBC News Online science staff
in October 2003. “But it wasn’t in the back street markets. It was
in all the major tourist areas, the expensive hotels. People are
buying it.”
Stiles estimated that 27 metric tons of ivory remain in
circulation, despite the CITES embargo. At least 80% appears to be
from poached elephants.
Martin and Stiles are scarcely the only investigators to
produce similar findings. A two-year investigation of ivory
trafficking in Thailand by Mahidol University student Akiri Koyanama,
published in July 2003, found that 104 Bangkok jewelry and souvenir
shops were offering more than 28,000 ivory items for sale, with
actual annual sales volume of about 4,000 pieces per year. Koyanama
released her findings to news media just a week after customs
officials intercepted 65 African elephant tusks at the Bangkok
World Wildlife Fund/India took note the same week of illegal
ivory sales in 11 major Indian cities, and identified ivory exports
from India to 40 other nations. Officially, anyhow, this trade was
cut off by an August 28, 2003 verdict of the Supreme Court of India
to the effect that ivory found in private possession must be seized
and objects of veneration made from ivory must be kept in secure
The British group Conservation Direct in September 2003
warned of a 75% overall decline in Asian elephant numbers since 1950,
with the steepest drops in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Habitat
loss and illegal killing by farmers who are trying to protect their
crops and homes appear to be bigger factors than overt ivory
poaching, but once an elephant is killed, the tusks are usually
TRAFFIC, a WWF subsidiary, announced in December 2003 that
it had found 2.5 tons of poached ivory items offered for sale in
Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Senegal.
The most shocking report of all was released on March 11,
2004 by the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Discovering
“thousands of ivory items on sale illegally in antique shops and
markets, and on Internet auction sites,” IFAW identified Britain as
the third busiest conduit nation for ivory coming illegally into the

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