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China Crushes 6 Tons Of Elephant Tusks: US Fears Ivory Trade Funds Terrorism
China crushed 6.2 metric tons of ivory in the first public destruction of part of its stockpile of elephant tusks and ivory sculpture, Reuters reported Monday, succumbing to international pressure for its part in the ivory trade amid deepening concern about the connection between the trade and terrorism. The event, held in Dongguan, Guangdong Province, featured elephant tusks placed in the shape of a flower on an outdoor stage, Reuters reported, and ironically, surrounded by ivory statues of the Buddha. The event was the first of its kind in China and followed a crush of six tons of confiscated ivory in Denver late last year.
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China faced pressure last spring when it was one of eight Asian and African countries identified by the the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as a primary import country for illegal ivory. "There is strong evidence of the increased involvement of organized crime syndicates — and on some occasions, rebel militia — in certain wildlife crimes that are operating through well-developed criminal networks." said CITES Secretary General John Scanlon, in a statement. "This has changed the dynamics of combating this highly destructive criminal activity, in particular as it relates to the African elephant."
About 22 thousand elephants were illegally killed in 2012, according to a CITES monitoring program. Although China signed the CITES pact banning global trade in ivory in 1981, it received an exemption from the body in 2008 to buy 62 tons of ivory from several African nations. It releases a portion of that stockpile each year to government-licensed ivory carving factories. Criminal networks such as the Lord's Resistance Army and Al Shabaab, who engage in drug and gun trades, are now involved in the sales of ivory to support their ventures, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
China's growing appetite for contraband ivory has fueled a surge in poaching in Africa. According to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which had representatives observing the crush in China, about 96 elephants a day are killed illegally in Africa. Many of those tusks end up in China, where they are carved and sold domestically or abroad. Though China has said it will dole out life sentences to convicted ivory smugglers, it has refused to ban the trade outright, Reuters said.
Involvement of politically motivated groups using the ivory to finance their rebellions and terrorism is worrying the United States, which still allows ivory sales within its own borders. The Obama administration has recently set up a National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking. "Poaching operations have expanded beyond small-scale, opportunistic actions to coordinated slaughter commissioned by armed and organized criminal syndicates," Pres. Barack Obama wrote in his executive order.
Evidence is emerging that the illicit wildlife trade is funding criminal networks and terrorists, including the Somali group that assaulted the Westgate mall in Kenya in September, according to The Denver Post. The United States has been in "discussions with Africom" — the U.S. military's Africa branch — to look at how they might help rangers patrolling wildlife parks, Judy Garber, U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, told the newspaper. "We've been in discussions with them about what training might be possible," Garber said.
From July to October of last year, poachers killed about 325 elephants by poisoning their water holes with cyanide in a national park in Zimbabwe. Government officials had been threatening villagers, The Standard reported, and that a sophisticated network of poachers that may include top government officials and law enforcement agents was involved. China is ranked as the world's most voracious end-market for poached ivory by the WWF, and the country is considered partially responsible for the slaughter, especially as it hasn't issued a ban on the trade. "There is an increasing trend of ivory being smuggled to China," Yang Liuying, an anti-smuggling researcher for the Chinese customs department told Reuters. "There is a 10 percent increase every year."
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