Thousands of Tusks for Chinese Medicine

Ivory Confiscated in Malaysia1.4 tons of confiscated ivory in Malaysia in December. Photo by Elizabeth John of Traffic.

Thousands of Tusks for Chinese Medicine
2011 saw a record for ivory confiscations since the trade was prohibited 22 years ago
This datum indicates a resurgence in African poaching fueled by Asian demand

El País: Miles de colmillos para la medicina china
Staff Report December 29, 2011

Ivory tusk smuggling hit a record level in 2011 since the ivory trade was prohibited 22 years ago, according to Traffic.

This international organization, which fights against illegal animal and plant trafficking, revealed that this year 23 tons of elephant tusks were confiscated, a quantity which sums up to about 2500 dead pachyderms.

Traffic connects the upturn in this illegal trade with enormous demand in Asia, where ivory is believed to have medicinal properties. “The majority of illegal elephant tusk shipments were bound for China or Thailand,” indicated the organization’s elephant expert, Tom Milliken.

Milliken added that this poaching is an indirect consequence of the investments China is directing in Africa to insure itself of the minerals and energy sources it needs to meet fuel demands and continue its economic development.

“Central Africa has been brutally affected, especially the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” denounced the expert, who maintained that elephants are also being secretly hunted in Zimbabwe, Zambia, northern Mozambique, Kenya, and Tanzania.

During 2011, there were at least 13 large-scale operations to seize illegal ivory shipments, as opposed to six in 2010, when less than 10 tons were intercepted.

Traffic has protested the small number of arrests that have been made in these operations and pointed out that delinquents are operating with greater and greater sophistication. “The only common denominator in this trafficking is that the ivory leaves Africa and arrives in Asia, but the routes are constantly changing, and the smugglers are always looking for better ways to evade detention,” Milliken warned.

An Inconsistent Population
In 1989, ivory trade was totally prohibited worldwide in order to stop the indiscriminate massacres of African elephants in countries like Kenya.

There are currently between 400,000 and 700,000 of the beasts in the world. In some southern African nations like Botswana, there are large elephant populations that are expanding to the point that authorities are worried: elephants are now so numerous there that they are damaging protected reserves.

The picture is far from encouraging in the rest of the world. There is unbridled poaching in more anarchic and lawless regions like the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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