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The vicious ivory trade

Malcolm Streitfeld

Anchor Staff Writer

In November 2023, an undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the United States revealed a prospering elephant ivory market in Connecticut. Carved figurines, belt buckles, trinkets, a parasol handle and jewelry were found in shops from New Hartford to Stamford, as well as the towns in between those two. Of 29 stores across the state, 19 had ivory for sale and 169 pieces were found priced from $12 to $1,250. The investigators were never presented with the required documentation to prove that these items were antiques and legally acquired. 

The weak patchwork of laws in Connecticut surrounding the ivory trade is not enough. Unfortunately,  this is a problem that extends beyond Connecticut. The illegal wildlife trade is a multibillion dollar transnational enterprise that incentivizes the wanton killing of animals for their parts. It is driving elephants and other endangered and imperiled species to the brink of extinction and encourages criminal syndicates with the promise of black market cash. Each year, between 10,000 to 15,000 elephants are killed by poachers. Poachers often hack off the elephant’s tusks while they are still alive. Babies and juveniles aren’t even spared.

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Tanzania contains the largest ivory cache in the world. An investigation conducted in 2012 found that the country has stockpiled thousands of tusks over the last 23 years, 90 metric tons valued at $50 million dollars to be exact. Poachers there have killed 60 percent of the country’s elephants for ivory. In 2009, the amount of elephants in Tanzania was 109,000. By 2014, this number dwindled to 43,000. Although China legally shut down its ivory trade as of December 2017, it still leads the world when it comes to the illicit ivory trade. China fuels at least 70% of it. China is followed by the Philippines and Thailand. In these places, status and money drive demand. On the Asian black market, ivory can fetch up to $1,500 dollars per pound and two male elephant tusks can weigh 250 pounds. 

This needs to stop before elephants are driven to extinction. Thankfully, not all is lost. In 2016, the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and other elephant ivory markets were shut down. Last November, the Canadian government banned domestic trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn, as well as the import of hunting trophies containing these parts. That same year, a Malaysian man named Teo Boon Ching, also known as the Godfather, was sentenced to 18 months in US prison for trafficking about 480 pounds of poached rhino horns worth about $2.1 million dollars. Then, just this January, a South African man named Gumede Sthembiso Joel was arrested at a Singapore airport after authorities found 20 rhino horn pieces weighing 34.7 kilograms in his bag. The pieces were worth about 1.2 million Singapore dollars ($895,000 in U.S dollars), making it the largest seizure of rhino horns in Singapore’s history. The man was sentenced to two years in jail.

That being said, there are still challenges ahead when it comes to ending this practice. At the end of March, officials from Mozambique’s Criminal Investigation Service or SERNIC and the Tax Authority seized a container at Maputo port hidden in bags of corn. The container was en route to Dubai and contained 651 pieces of elephant ivory. This is the third known large-scale seizure of elephant ivory exported from Mozambique since 2022. Thankfully, despite this recent news, the action that has been taken is a clear sign that authorities might soon be able to put an end to this horrific practice for good.


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