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The demand for elephant ivory in China is growing as wealthy Chinese citizens begin to see the ‘white gold’ as a private and business investment option.

This coincides with a rise in poaching that is, arguably, as high as those in the 1980s, before ivory trade was banned.


Grace Gabriel, Asia Regional Director for IFAW, said elephant ivory, in a manner of speaking, has become a new currency in China. And the demand for the commodity has sent the price soaring.

International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) believes the blame lies firmly on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) decision to allow the legal sale of ivory stockpiles from four southern African countries to China and Japan in 2008.

In 2009 China and Japan received their legally bought ivory. [quote]The legal stockpile sale was meant to saturate the illegal ivory market making it less profitable for illegal poachers. The supposed outcome was to have been a reduction in poaching, as the risk of poaching elephants would out weigh the money earned. But the complete opposite has resulted and the decision has created a new demand for elephant ivory in these regions.[/quote]

Subsequently, according to Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), three of the five largest volumes of ivory were seized since 1989 were in 2009, 2010 and 2011.  Therefore, we have witnessed an increase in worldwide seizures of elephant tusks and poaching. In 2011 alone media reports suggest that 5, 259 ivory tusks were confiscated.

In 2004 the Chinese introduced a regulatory system intended to control the domestic ivory market to stay in line with CITES conditions. But of the 158 ivory trade facilities visited (September to October 2011) in five cities by Chinese experts, 101 did not have government issued licenses. And the small number that was operating legally still do not comply fully with the ivory control system, said Gabriel.


It is estimated that a pound of ivory will cost $400 and ivory bracelets and earrings can fetch up to $300.  As it stands today the illegal ivory trade is a low risk high reward business; a deadly business for elephants, upon which both seller and buyer are cashing in.

Other related articles:

1.5 tons of elephant tusks seized

5 000 elephants killed in Republic of Congo

Death in the Congo: The background to Garamba’s elephant tragedy

Other resources of interest

Making a killing: A 2011 survey of ivory markets in China

Information was compiled from  an IFAW Press Release and other documents © IFAW

Sean Messham

While taking photographs in the Cederberg, neck deep in water with a modest film camera, Sean Messham opened the shutter that he wanted to focus his energy towards environmental journalism. For more of Sean Messham’s images visit his Facebook Page, Sean Messham Photography.