Wildlife Trade: China Reports Drop in Smuggled Ivory, South Africa Debates Rhino Horn Law

23 March 2017

The past month has seen a series of domestic efforts aimed at addressing different aspects of wildlife trade, from the implementation of measures to further regulate or curb ivory sales in various countries and a debate in South Africa over domestic trade in rhino horn.

Chinese officials reported late last month that smuggled ivory in the country dropped 80 percent last year, according to the Xinhua news agency. The Asian economy is the world’s largest consumer of ivory and has committed to phasing out commercial processing and sales of ivory by year’s end.

Countries under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) agreed last year on a non-binding recommendation in favour of closing domestic ivory markets, among other decisions. (See Bridges Weekly, 13 October 2016)

Earlier this month, CITES’ Monitoring Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme found that the increase in African elephant poaching from 2006-2011 has “halted and stabilised,” but that more must be done to ensure the survival of elephant populations on the continent.

In related news, Japan has lately taken steps to regulate further the country’s ivory market, such as by requiring ivory traders to register with the government and imposing harsher punishments on violators. Separately, Singapore’s Minister of State for national Development Koh Poh Koon announced earlier this month a ban of ivory sales as part of the city-state’s elephant conservation efforts. Singapore is a key point of transit for smuggled ivory with large quantities traveling through it to reach other parts of the world.

The EU is also set to ban raw ivory exports from July onward in a bid to tackle wildlife crime. The bloc is the world’s leader in raw and carved ivory sales. Vendors are permitted to export ivory harvested pre-1990, when international ivory trade was largely banned, which some critics say can allow smugglers an opportunity to sell illegal ivory disguised as legal. 

South Africa issues draft law on domestic rhino horn trade

Meanwhile, South Africa is mulling draft legislation that could legalise some domestic rhino horn trade, with the relevant permits, and allow limited international exports for personal use. The country is home to 80 percent of the world’s rhinos and reported 2883 cases of poaching-related activities in 2016.

Some domestic breeders have argued that this law would drive down rhino horn demand and decrease poaching, suggesting that some of the money used currently to protect rhinos from poachers could instead support other conservation efforts. Critics argue, however, that the draft legislation could have the reverse effect and possibly provide a “cover” for illegal exports and potentially increase demand. 

ICTSD reporting: “China sees sharp decline in ivory smuggling in 2016,” CHINA DAILY, 27 February 2017; “China Bans Its ivory Trade, Moving Against Elephant Poaching,” THE NEW YORK TIMES, 30 December 2016; “S’pore to ban sale of ivory here,” TODAY, 1 March 2017; “EU set to ban raw ivory exports from July,” THE GUARDIAN, 22 February 2017; “ “South Africa Considers Legalizing Domestic Rhino Horn Trade,” NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO, 13 March 2017; “Japan to tighten control over domestic ivory trade,” KYODO NEWS, 28 February 2017.

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