'Focus on supply chain to tackle illicit ivory trade' says leading wildlife charity

28 August 2014

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28 August 2014 | Will Green

The Born Free Foundation is calling on enforcement agencies to tackle the illicit trade in ivory by addressing the supply chain behind it.

The charity has produced a report detailing the supply chain behind the trade, which involves a complex network including poachers in Africa, freight forwarding companies, corrupt port officials and organised crime syndicates.

The report, called Out of Africa, said: “Disproportionate attention is currently being paid to the beginning and end of the ivory supply chain, on tackling poaching through deterrence, and on reducing the end-demand by re-educating consumers.

“Both are extremely important, but also extremely difficult, especially in the short time frame available. Disrupting the intermediate sections of the supply chain, however, is likely to be a more tractable intervention.”

The report said between 2009 and June 2014 170 tonnes of ivory had been seized, that assuming a 10 per cent interception rate was equivalent to the deaths of almost 230,000 elephants.

Ivory is collected in the bush at $50 to $100/kg (£30 to £60/kg), sold wholesale at $2,100/kg (£1,300/kg) and then retailed in the millions.

The report identified the steps in the ivory supply chain, beginning with a “financier” who organises, funds and supplies poaching operations in central and southern Africa. Next a “consolidator” receives and packages the cargo and transports it to ports, commonly Mombasa in Kenya and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

Import-export firms or shell companies connected with the movement of raw materials or agricultural products adopt the cargo and ship it, with the collusion of various officials, to the Far East, which by far the largest market.

“These operations are where the convergence between licit and illicit entities is most necessary, and can be leveraged to become a major source of vulnerability for traffickers,” said the report.

Importers and wholesalers in countries such as China, which is the largest market, then transport ivory to carving factories where it is turned into consumer products.

The report said Chinese crime syndicates were increasingly taking control of each stage of the supply chain. “Chinese illicit ivory traffickers in particular have been arrested across nearly every single African range state, and operate at nearly every point along the ivory supply chain,” said the report.

“The majority of today’s illegal ivory is transported by sea, nesting within licit containerized trade. As a result, enforcement efforts must include the shipping and freight logistics companies who are institutionally innocent of any involvement in the ivory trade, but have supply chains that are increasingly being hijacked by organised criminal networks.”

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