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Posts Tagged china

Ivory Demand: What to do? Brendan Moyle Feb 10

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The last legal shipment of ivory from Africa to China and Japan was approved of in 2008, and sent in 2009.  CITES decided that no further exports would occur until a Decision-Making-Mechanism (DMM) was designed and approved of.  This was supposed to take 8-9 years.  It still hasn’t been approved.  To some extent this stymied the proposal of Tanzania at the Bangkok CITES meeting to get approval to put their stockpile on the market.

The quantity of ivory imported by China and Japan, has had to be rationed out over a decade.  This has greatly hindered the supply-side effect of this on the black-market.  If you’re only putting in 4-5 tons of legal ivory a year, you’re a minor and small player now.  The illegal market is much larger.  We have some 30-40 tons of raw ivory being seized annually now, and a lot more must be getting through.

So this comes back to can we reduce demand for ivory?  This after all was what the 1989 CITES decision to list African elephants on Appendix I was supposed to do.  It’s what ivory-destruction- going back to Kenya’s burn of 12 tons in 1989- was supposed to do.  And in some markets- notably the US and Europe, demand for ivory has fallen.

Is it going to work in China?  Demand for ivory has fallen in Japan.  In Japan demand for ivory was driven by a name-seal or hanko.  This was given to young people upon maturity and was used for signing documents and other financial instruments.  Demand has fallen because with an aging population, there’s less of that demographic.  It’s also fallen because of financial-innovations.  With a lot more transactions occurring electronically, hankos have less demand.

In China the main demographic is getting larger and growing wealthier.  There’s also a much broader range of products sold in China.  The cultural element is also much more significant than the US or Europe.  Ivory has been a highly valued product in China for centuries.  If demand for ivory is going to fall in China, it’ll likely do so slowly and over a great many years.

Figure 1: Ivory Carving (about 1 m long)

I don’t see that the blanket ‘kill-demand’ approach is going to work here.  So if we’re going to try demand reduction, then I think we need to be a bit more strategic.  What I think we need as the first step, is shifting demand out of the illegal-market into the legal.  The reasons are as follows.

  1. The legal market is dominated by a small number of producers with market-power.  They already use that to reduce demand- by pushing prices higher.  High prices are a good way to reduce demand, and these guys are doing it.  So you’d end up with less ivory sold than now, at higher prices.
  2. It doesn’t fight centuries of cultural tradition.  Education campaigns have been ongoing in China since 1996.  I think we have to recognise that this is not the USA.  Ivory carvings are in some ways, like whale-bone carvings in NZ.  There’s a cultural component that isn’t going to disappear because people from other cultures don’t approve.
  3. It saves face for the Chinese.  State policy in China is to nurture an ivory-carving industry to preserve an artisanal tradition.  This support the legal, kill the illegal, gives the Chinese a palatable compromise solution.
  4. It sustains a reason for enforcement.  The political reality in China is the guys that manage the legal ivory trade, aren’t the guys that do the enforcement.  There’s about three agencies involved (Police, Customs, SFA).  Policing the illegal market depends on incentives.  There’s not a lot of evidence that the police care a great deal about the sale of illegal ivory.  The fate of Africa’s elephant populations isn’t something they find gripping.  Enforcement happens because there are political reasons for doing so, and part of that political-aspect is the existence of the legal market.  If there is no legal market to try to protect or perpetuate, it’s hard seeing who is left with a strong inventive to combat the illegal.

 

 

 

The Missing Ivory Puzzle Brendan Moyle Feb 04

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Poaching levels of African elephants have surged to an appalling level.  Since 2007 the illegal traffic in ivory has more than doubled [1].  By 2011 the numbers of elephants killed annually was estimated to be 25,000 animals [1].

The increase in poaching is reflected in the seizure rates of raw ivory.  This seizure metric is supported by evidence from shrinking wild populations and collation of kill reports [1],[2].

Figure 1: Raw Ivory Seizures

figure 1

The challenge is to explain this dramatic surge in seizures.  Why are over 20,000 elephants now being poached?  Poaching levels accelerated in the late 2000s and the estimated volume of ivory trafficked has greatly increased.  Has demand for ivory in a short space time increased by perhaps over double?

A popular view is the 2008 sale of ivory to China triggered a leap in demand for carvings [3],[4].  Nonetheless there is little evidence that demand and consumption has risen to match the volumes of ivory being smuggled [5].

“…The Secretariat saw little evidence of sufficient demand and consumption that might drive the indisputably significant smuggling levels. Surveys by NGOs, whilst wider-reaching that those of the Secretariat, also seem to show demand levels below what is being illegally-harvested and smuggled”. CITES Secretariat, n22.

Another possibility is that it is being stockpiled for speculative motives.  Ivory is extremely durable.  It can be, and is, easily stored.

Figure 2: Tusks in Storeroom of Chinese Factory.  Buckets of water are used to maintain humidity

Figure 3: Tusks from South Africa. Tusks come in 4 quality grades

One of the big obstacles to turning ivory into carvings for sale is the carving process. The process is still artisanal.  Carvings aren’t produced in some assembly-line process.  It is still done by one carver, working usually by themselves.  In China the system is based on apprentices learning how to carve ivory from more skilled carvers (masters) until they qualify.  Factories are still small scale.

Figure 4: Ivory Carver. Electric tools were adopted in the 1990s.

Figure 5: Individual Workstations at a Factory

While we don’t know how big the unregistered (and illegal) carving industry is in China, we know the legal goes through about 4-5 tons of elephant ivory annually.  Numbers thrown out for the unregistered are 20 to 30 tons.  Given seizures in China, that’s probably in the right order of magnitude.  There hasn’t been a massive increase in the number of registered retail stores (136 to 145).  The quantities of ivory seized from illegal sellers haven’t been trending up.  This is why the CITES Secretariat made the earlier observation.  Yes, demand in China has gone up and that’s part of a long term trend based on increasing affluence.  But it hasn’t gone up by a level that accounts for all the ivory being smuggled.

We know have annual seizures of approximating 40 tons of raw ivory.  We don’t know how much is getting through but presumable a lot more.  Even a very conservative estimate would give us- for argument sake- an extra 100 tons every year.  It’s straining credibility to claim all of this is being churned out as carvings for sale in East Asian markets.  The production process is far too slow to absorb these quantities.

Figure 6: Apprentice Carver

If you want to expand output, you need to hire and train new carvers.  Officially it takes about 4-5 years to get past an apprentice status. Unofficially an apprentice can be carving simple but commercially valuable items in about 2 years.  Again, this doesn’t suggest production can rapidly and easily expand to meet the influx of ivory.

This suggests the popular view is basically wrong.  It’s more likely that most of the smuggled ivory is being stored for speculative reasons instead.

All figures above taken by me during research in 2013.  Full-sized versions can be obtained for media purposes.

[1] CITES, IUCN/SSC and TRAFFIC International., 2013. Status of African elephant populations and levels of illegal killing and the illegal trade in ivory: A report to the African Elephant Summit December 2013. Available from https://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/african_elephant_summit_background_document_2013_en.pdf.

[2] Underwood, F.M., Burn R.W., Milliken, T., 2013. Dissecting the Illegal Ivory Trade: An Analysis of Ivory Seizures Data. PLoS ONE 8(10), e76539. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0076539.

[3] IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare), 2012. Making a Killing: A 2011 Survey of Ivory Markets in China. IFAW, Yarmouth Port.

[4] Rice, M., 2012.  Legal ivory trading severely undermines elephant conservation. The Ecologist 8 November. Available from http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/1669938/legal_ivory_trading_severely_undermines_elephant_conservation.html

[5] CITES Secretariat., 2010. Monitoring of Illegal Trade in Ivory and Other Elephant Specimens.  Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife Fauna and Flora, 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties, Doha (Qatar), 13-15 March.  CoP15 Doc. 44.1 (Rev. 1).

The 25,000 elephant question Brendan Moyle Dec 08

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Poaching levels for African elephants have now accelerated to a point where about 25,000 are being killed a year.  The population in Africa is projected to decline by 20% in the next decade.  This is starting to get people very worried.

The illegal trade in elephants has several important features.  The first is that there is a separation between final consumers of carvings and poachers who procure the tusks.  There is a long supply chain with many parties along the route.  And importantly, many of these act strategically.  They’re thinking about the future, where demand is going and what effect enforcement is going to have.

The second feature is that ivory isn’t consumed in its raw form. It has to be transformed into something of value by carvings.  This process isn’t instant.  For an elaborate and large carving like a Guangzhou dragon-ball this can take months.  The number of skilled carvers is limited and the tools used to carve ivory aren’t sophisticated. There’s a limit to how much can be transformed into carvings.

ivory-carving-1

The third feature is that ivory is durable.  It can be stored for long periods without deteriorating. This may require some environmental safeguards.  In the dry air of Beijing for instance, humidity levels have to be increased.  But other than that, tusks can potentially last for years.  This is why many governments have stockpiles.  Another point is the bad guys have stockpiles too.

One way to look at the illegal trade is to break the seizures down into different categories.  Seizure data has been accumulated globally as part of the ETIS since 1996.  While the weight of seizures is often aggregated, this masks some important differences.  Some guy smuggling a small piece of raw ivory in his suitcase, isn’t the same as the criminal conspiracy shipping four tons of tusks in a container.

What I’ve done here is taken the ETIS seizure data for raw ivory (by weight) and divided it into four categories.  These are the seizures up to less than 10kg (Raw1), the seizures from 10kg but less than 100 (Raw2), the seizures from 100kg but less than 1000, and the seizures that are more than 1000kg.  This isn’t the total amount of ivory being illegal trafficked.  It is a sample based on seizures. I’ve also expressed the data as a two-year moving average to iron out a little volatility.

Raw Ivory Seizures

 

The data graphed above is also stacked so that the top line will measure the total ivory seized while the other lines break it down into proportions.  There were no big seizures in 2007-2008.

What can we see?

Well, the small seizures (less than 10kg) have been pretty stable. They haven’t moved.  The problem facing elephants isn’t the small stuff coming in as suitcases.  These make up the majority of the actual seizures by a negligible amount of the illegal ivory.  This also serves as a useful control. If the increase in recorded seizures was simply down to better reporting and better enforcement, this ought to have increased in line with the other categories.

The second point is really that the big seizures drive the trend. The increase in illegal ivory being trafficked is down to one category getting bigger.  This is the stuff that’s more than 1000kg. It’s the stuff that’s several tons in a shipping container from East or West Africa. We can see that’s taken off from around 2008.

This actually generates an important question. Why is it 25,000 elephants and not 10,000 elephants? The legal demand in China for ivory is about 4 tons per year.  The illegal demand is (we think) much higher. But 10,000 elephants gives (back of the envelope calculation) about 100 tons of raw ivory a year.  25,000 elephants gives 250 tons. It doesn’t seem plausible that this could be absorbed by the markets in China- nor that the legal and illegal factories could transform it into carvings fast enough.

This is a strong indicator that ivory is being hoarded at the moment.  This tells us the bad guys are banking on the US government and many other conservation organisations being wrong. They’re betting on ivory still being in demand in the future and at higher prices. This is kind of scary. I tend to the view that the guys involved in the illegal market have pretty good knowledge of the market. I don’t have the same confidence in the conservation organisations claiming demand is going to decline with stockpile destruction.  If the bad guys are right, destroying legal stockpiles just makes their hoards more valuable. It affirms the poaching spree was the right strategy for them.

 

 

 

Ivory Bust in HK & a question for the economists Brendan Moyle Nov 13

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It’s interesting holding an elephant tusk for the first time.  You’re not quite sure what to expect. But the first thing you notice is that they’re heavy, heavier than I expected. This aspect distinguishes elephant ivory from other wildlife products.  It’s heavy, and it’s going to take up space.  This has to affect the smuggling techniques.

tusks

Last month there was another bust of smuggled ivory in Hong Kong.  There were 189 tusks with an average weight of 4kg each.  The origin of the shipment was (ironically) the Cote d’Ivoire.  West Africa continues to play a dominant role as an export centre of poached ivory.  This was the third major bust by Hong Kong customs this year.  The common denominator is that they’re all shipped, concealed, in containers.

The novel aspect of this shipment is the conspirators were trying to spread their risks this time. Rather than the tusks being on one ship, they came in containers on three different ships.  This suggests the effect of several big busts in late 2012 and continuing to 2013 is increased wariness.

Of the illegal wildlife products I’m familiar with, containers are a technique that I think, specialised for ivory. I can’t think of any other wildlife product that relies so heavily on containers.  So, aside from I think firearms, here’s a question for the economists (or anyone else who knows).  Is there any other illegal product that depends as much on shipping containers for distribution as ivory?

 

 

New illegal shark-finning tactic Brendan Moyle Nov 10

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Historically NZ has banned the finning of live sharks, and looks to be set to eliminate the practice entirely. This is in line with other countries.  The United Nations recommends a ‘fins naturally attached policy’ which would require vessels to keep the whole shark. Interestingly, anti-shark-fin campaigns are also springing up in Chinese social media (like Weibo). The custom is under pressure within as well. It has been banned at official banquets in Hong Kong and some mainland provinces.

Nonetheless, demand remains high enough to keep shark populations under threat.  The point is that it is this specific fishing practice- finning- that is illegal.  Many shark species are still fished legally in New Zealand and elsewhere.  The regulations against finning thus distinguish between catching sharks for human consumption, and finning specifically.  Fins for instance, must be ‘naturally attached’ to the body, as per the United Nations recommendation.

The challenge with any environmental regulation is keeping up with the ingenuity of the criminals.  Costa Rica has identified a method illegal shark-finners are using to comply with the regulations. This leaves a band of skin connecting the fin to the spine, and the rest of the animal is discarded.

Shark Fins via Interpol Press Release

Shark Fins via Interpol Press Release

This has led INTERPOL to issue a Purple Notice to members to alert them to the new practice.  Purple notices are used by INTERPOL  to seek or provide information on modi operandi, objects, devices and concealment methods used by criminals.  This is the second Purple Notice in fisheries to have been issued to member countries.

 

Xishuangbanna: The Butterfly Edition Brendan Moyle Aug 13

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This region in Yunnan still has a diverse range of butterflies. This was one expedition where a macro lens is practically mandatory. I didn't bring mine, so this collection has either been photographed with my 70-200/2.8G, or with my CZ16-80 and an extension tube.

Next time… never forget the macro

First pic is of one of the local caterpillars. These abounded in many trees in the region of the 'Elephant Vale'. It's also where we saw one of the biggest 'dick' moves by a Chinese tourist. H e wandered right up to one of these insects, and then scorched it with his cigarette for fun. Bastard.

#1 Caterpillar


The diversity of butterflies was impressive

#2


#3


#4


#5


#6


#7


#8 – From the Elephant Vale Butterfly House


#9 – From the Elephant Vale Butterfly House

Xishuangbanna: The Butterfly Edition Brendan Moyle Aug 13

No Comments

This region in Yunnan still has a diverse range of butterflies. This was one expedition where a macro lens is practically mandatory. I didn't bring mine, so this collection has either been photographed with my 70-200/2.8G, or with my CZ16-80 and an extension tube.

Next time… never forget the macro

First pic is of one of the local caterpillars. These abounded in many trees in the region of the 'Elephant Vale'. It's also where we saw one of the biggest 'dick' moves by a Chinese tourist. H e wandered right up to one of these insects, and then scorched it with his cigarette for fun. Bastard.

#1 Caterpillar


The diversity of butterflies was impressive

#2


#3


#4


#5


#6


#7


#8 – From the Elephant Vale Butterfly House


#9 – From the Elephant Vale Butterfly House

The Large Animal Xishuangbanna Edition Brendan Moyle Aug 10

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The trip to Xishuangbanna was largely to take a look at the Chinese management of this area. It is a very green part of China, and the tropical forests are a welcome sight. The large mammals in the region include Asian elephants and tigers. Sadly we didn't see any such examples of these creatures in the tight schedule we had.

Nonetheless, there were some elephants in a recovery centre that we were able to visit. We also got the chance to see some of the local reptile life.

The elephants here had been recaptured off drug smugglers, who were using them to move drugs across the border into China. Elephants have the advantage of not using roads a lot, and not generally being bothered for passports and identity cards.

Melancholic Elephant


Lizard


Big Lizard!




The Xishuangbanna Edition: Black and whites Brendan Moyle Aug 10

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The moments for photography were fleeting, but I tried to keep an eye out for scenes that might suit a black-and-white photo. This is a rural area in China so there are still a lot of "rustic" or "vintage" scenes.

These are the pics I got:

Farm Building – near Mohang


Farm Building – near Mohang


Farm Equipment- Mohang Market


Border Post at Laos-China Border (Mohang)


Dai Village wall


On the road to Mohang

The Large Animal Xishuangbanna Edition Brendan Moyle Aug 10

No Comments

The trip to Xishuangbanna was largely to take a look at the Chinese management of this area. It is a very green part of China, and the tropical forests are a welcome sight. The large mammals in the region include Asian elephants and tigers. Sadly we didn't see any such examples of these creatures in the tight schedule we had.

Nonetheless, there were some elephants in a recovery centre that we were able to visit. We also got the chance to see some of the local reptile life.

The elephants here had been recaptured off drug smugglers, who were using them to move drugs across the border into China. Elephants have the advantage of not using roads a lot, and not generally being bothered for passports and identity cards.

Melancholic Elephant


Lizard


Big Lizard!




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