This January, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Leung Chun-ying, announced that the government will ban the sale of ivory in Hong Kong, a hub of the illegal trade. About 70 percent of the world’s poached ivory ends up in China and Hong Kong, where ivory is viewed as a luxury and a representation of wealth. In 2002, the Chinese government significantly promoted ivory as a part of Chinese cultural heritage and allowed legal purchases of ivory with government-licensed outlets. However, the popular legal market for ivory trade forged the path for the creation of a much larger illegal ivory market.
Much of China’s illegal ivory is smuggled from Africa, where illicit poaching prevails. Tens of thousands of wild elephants are hunted each year for their tusks. In Tanzania, from 2009 to 2014, the number of African elephants fell sixty percent in just five years. China’s business with Africa extends to multiple other industries, and although China’s investment in those fields have benefitted both parties, African leaders are discontent that their countries’ relationships with China are detrimental to African wildlife.
There are many components to the ivory trafficking system, most prominently the network that moves the goods from source to export. In the 2013 Mombasa seizure of over 3800kg of ivory, the ivory passed through the hands of at least twelve different companies, with three different transportation routes. The clearing agent was a Kenya-based company that was not actually registered as a Kenyan business; it was “suspended” by Kenyan revenue authority a few months prior. Companies based in Mombasa and Nairobi served as exporters, yet the consignee (buyer) was listed as Indonesian. Two of the three different import companies were “shell” companies (inactive). The operation has always been sophisticated, involving multiple business entities, whether registered or not, legal or illegal.
Last September, President Barack Obama and Chairman Xi Jinping made an agreement to plan on eliminating the import and export of ivory in both the United States and China. Testimonials from, Yao Ming, actress Li Bingbing, and other public figures have spurred many Chinese citizens to stop purchasing and using ivory. A study in 2007 from the International Fund for Animal Welfare found that 70 percent of Chinese were not aware that elephants were dying in order for poachers to obtain the ivory. Due to this, the government has implemented plans to educate the public about poaching. Government officials promised to impose heavier penalties on the smuggling and trading of endangered animals.