Illegal Ivory Trade on the Rise as Organized Crime Syndicates in Africa, Asia Grow in Strength

elephant mother and calf photo

photo: Matt Rudge via flickr.

A couple weeks ago we learned that at present poaching rates Africa's elephants will all be extinct in just fifteen years. Well, here's so more on that: The wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC brings word that the illegal ivory trade has increased markedly in the latest analysis, and that organized crime networks linking Africa to Asia are behind it:

2,000 New Seizures In Past Two Years
According to the 2009 data from the Elephant Trade Information System [PDF] between 1989 and 2007 there were 12,364 recorded elephant product seizure records, but in the past two years that number has increased by 2,000 seizures.

The ETIS data shows that the surge in 2009 is the result of, "increased involvement of organized crime syndicates in the trade, connecting African source countries with Asian end-use markets." Over the past decade these crime syndicates have only grown stronger.

Illegal Ivory Trade Flourishes With Low Law Enforcement, Weak Market Oversight
The analysis goes on to show that there is a "highly significant correlation" between ivory markets and poor law enforcement, on both the supply and demand sides. In other words, in places where there rule of law and oversight of markets is lacking it is both easier to acquire and sell ivory and elephant products.

In terms of nations most involved, ETIS analysis shows that Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Thailand to be at the top of the illicit ivory heap. Additionally, Cameroon, Gabon, Mozambique, Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam are all important nodes of underground ivory trade.

An interesting wrinkle in the story: Traffic says there is increasing evidence that Chinese nationals now living in Africa have "widespread involvement" in the procuring ivory.

Average 104 Elephants Killed Daily
By way of background context, about 38,000 elephants are killed every year in Africa (104 per day!), contributing to worldwide illegal trade in animals valued over $20 billion annually.

Photo: Joyce Wu/TRAFFIC
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