Asian Gangsters Drive African Elephant Slaughter, Report Says

May 11, 2007

Asian crime syndicates operating in Africa are fueling the slaughter of elephants for their ivory, conservationists say.

A new report suggests organized crime is behind a surge in the trade of illegal ivory, particularly from elephants in Central Africa.

The warning is based on a study by TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade-monitoring network run by the conservation nonprofit WWF and the United Nations' World Conservation Union.

Researchers identified the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Cameroon, and Nigeria as the main sources of this illegal ivory. (See a map of Africa.)

"Central Africa is currently hemorrhaging ivory, and these three countries are major conduits for trafficking illicit ivory from the region to international markets, particularly in Asia," the study's lead author Tom Milliken, director of TRAFFIC's Africa program, said in a statement.

Traffickers from China and other Asian countries were implicated in an increase in the size and number of large-scale ivory seizures, which have almost doubled in recent years.

The team found that confiscated ivory consignments weighing at least a ton rose from 17 between 1989 and 1997 to 32 between 1998 and 2006.

The report is based on an analysis of some 12,400 seizures from 82 countries logged on the world's largest database of elephant product seizures, the Elephant Trade Information System.

Ivory Trail

Demand for elephant ivory comes mainly from China, where it is shipped through ports such as Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan, researchers say. Other key destinations include Thailand, Philippines, and Japan.

(See photo: Record Ivory Cache Seized in Osaka, Japan [March 1, 2007].)

The growth in large-scale seizures coincides with a period of massively increased trade between Africa and China, according to TRAFFIC's Richard Thomas, based at the organization's headquarters in Cambridge, England.

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