China’s demand for their tusks is a grave threat to Africa’s elephants

  • By EAL
  • February 5, 2013

Editorial on The Times (London)
China’s demand for their tusks is a grave threat to Africa’s elephants.

China’s demand for their tusks is a grave threat to Africa’s elephants Affluent shoppers browsing Beijing’s ivory boutiques may tell themselves the trinkets they covet are carved from legal supplies, but they are almost certainly wrong. About 70 per cent of poached raw ivory ends up in China, not to be carved and re-exported to Europe and the US, as was once the case, but for domestic sale. As much as 90 per cent of the ivory sold in China is estimated to have been smuggled, rather than drawn down from the Government’s official stockpile.

Killing elephants on a large scale and smuggling their tusks long distances is expensive, made worthwhile by the high price for ivory. The best way to deter poachers is to reduce that price. Some – notably those southern African states that still host large elephant populations – argue that increasing the supply of legally available ivory is the way forward. Elephant culls must take place, so the argument goes, and if those culls are carried out by the wealthy on expensive hunting trips, so much the better: live elephants become more valuable than dead ones.

It is hard to see, however, how this strategy helps the endangered elephants of central and east Africa. Despite a sevenfold spike in poaching between 2007 and 2010, the price of ivory went up.

If such an increase in supply had no effect, then demand must be curtailed. The people of China must be weaned off their addiction to elephant teeth, just as – to some extent – the Japanese have been, just as Westerners were a generation ago. That means educating Chinese shoppers about the true cost of ivory. It also means pointing out to the 80 million Chinese who holidayed abroad last year that one day they might like to take a trip to see an elephant in the wild.

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