Beijing’s curbs on the sale of elephant tusks appear to be taking effect, with the previously runaway prices of ivory on the mainland levelling off, according to a Nairobi-based academic who studies the illegal wildlife trade.
The number of licensed ivory factories and retail shops on the mainland had also fallen for the first time, wildlife scholar Esmond Martin said.
Data he collected indicated demand for the “white gold” had softened in the wake of the mainland’s year-long ban on ivory imports, corruption crackdown and weakening economic outlook.
“The official factories and retail shops are not getting new licences,” Martin said.
“Some have closed down, and on top of that the price has remained stable. Corruption has been cut, and growth in the Chinese economy has declined.”
Corruption has been cut, and growth in the Chinese economy has declinedESMOND MARTIN
And Beijing is not letting up on its determination to stamp out the controversial trade. Last month, Zhao Shucong, head of the State Forestry Administration, declared: “We will control ivory processing and trade strictly until the commercial processing and sale of ivory and its products are eventually halted.”
Wildlife campaigners say Zhao’s words are more than just symbolic. The announcement came after Beijing last month destroyed 662kg of confiscated ivory in an attempt to hinder the trade.
Martin has been studying the illegal ivory trade in Asia, particularly in China, and Africa for four decades.
His data shows that the number of officially sanctioned ivory factories on the mainland have dropped from 37 to 34, while the number of regulated retailers has fallen from 145 to 130.
The price of 1kg of polished tusks has stabilised to US$2,650, compared with the US$2,100 mainland factories and carvers paid for raw tusks early last year on the wholesale black market.
“It appears the demand is not increasing,” Martin said. At worst, he added, demand last year and early this year had stabilised, but at best it had gone down.
Alex Hofford, a Hong Kong-based wildlife campaigner for WildAid, said he was heartened by the figures suggesting mainland ivory prices had peaked.
But “so long as the so-called inactive or personal ivory stock loophole remains present in Hong Kong’s legal ivory trade, freshly poached and smuggled ivory from illegally killed African elephants will continue to be laundered into the market here,” Hofford said.
Beijing’s commendable efforts to curb its own legal ivory market would be undermined by a continued existence of a black market for “legal” ivory in Hong Kong, he said.