The Ivory Trade of Laos

Stephen Wiggins Studies 8 Comments

Save the Elephants

The Ivory Trade of Laos: Now the fastest growing in the World, ” Save the Elephants, 2017

This report highlights how complacent and ineffective CITES seemingly is as a regulatory body when it comes to stemming internationally banned trade in endangered species products.

Despite the on-going efforts to curb ivory working/trading within China itself, mainland Chinese openly buy post 1990 (ie. poached) ivory in Laos (from predominantly Chinese owned establishments apparently):

Mainland Chinese buy over 80% of the ivory items in Laos today.“

Nearly all the items seen for sale today originate from illegally imported (post-1990) ivory. There is virtually no law enforcement so shops are able to display these items openly.”

In recent years, the ivory trade in Laos has expanded more rapidly than in any other country surveyed, for one major reason: effective law enforcement and control of the illegal international ivory trade are practically non-existent in Laos.”

If elephant poaching is to decline and give wild elephant populations the chance to stabilise/survive, then enforcement and demand reduction are fundamental.

Why are the rest of the parties to CITES and the international community not seeking compliance from Laos (and from China etc.) on the implications?

Laos has remained a backwater, keeping a low profile at international conferences, and has not been held sufficiently accountable on the international stage for its significant role in the ivory trade and in commerce in other endangered wildlife products.”

Comments 8

  1. Gustav Venter

    CITES is a toothless dog with a severely deficient decision-making process. Yet this is the organization you trust with maintaining the ban on the legal trade in rhino horn? Dealing with the illegal trade is like playing whack-a-mole… every time it is suppressed in one place, it will just pop up in another. This is disastrous for the elephant; it needn’t be for the rhino whose horn is a renewable resource.

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      Stephen Wiggins

      No, you are wrong – no conservationist trusts CITES. I do not trust CITES. Also, enforcement is not entirely down to CITES (though it has a mandate to do so), but also the parties (governments and their enforcement authorities) that sign up to CITES!

      “Laos is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which means ivory trafficking is a crime, but the report said Laotian authorities barely enforce anti-ivory laws and only one seizure has been made in the country since it joined the convention in 2004” –

      Plus, international agencies fighting wildlife trafficking.

      CITES is the international regulatory body that facilitates trade in endangered species.

      “CITES deals with international trade, it is not there to deal with the conservation of species in situ – there is a great deal of misunderstanding about that,” said John Sellar, formerly chief of enforcement for CITES

      There is no international body overseeing conservation for conservation’s sake (that’s the problem). CITES is underfunded and officials in country not above corruption – plus CITES sends out mixed messages and is undermined as a pure conservation body by its wedded dogma of sustainable utilisation regardless of risks and negative consequences (as are you it would seem).

      It’s interesting that you have tried to use ivory to support a legal trade in rhino horn. CITES allowing ivory stockpiles to be released into the market post ban is the reason that elephant poaching still persists, as demand was stimulated!

      In 1989/1990 CITES introduced a ban on all ivory trade and ‘uplisted’ the elephant to CITES Appendix I. The ban worked initially to reduce poaching/demand, up to 1997.

      However, by 1997 CITES sought to ‘find ways’ (delisting relevant elephant populations by country to CITES Appendix II, where only an export license is required) to meet ‘demand’ for (and to profit from) ivory from stockpiles, allowing exports of 47 tonnes of ‘stockpiled’ (highlighted ‘thus’ because there is always the opportunity to launder illicit sources into the mix) ivory to Japan from Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe. It would appear that from this ill-judged CITES decision in 1997, “Pandora’s box” was re-opened, with the tacit message to previous ivory trading and poaching syndicates that ‘the game was back on.’

      The initial 1997 CITES ill-judged thinking was further compounded in 2000, when South Africa’s elephants were delisted to CITES Appendix II with CITES’ blessing, with 6 tonnes of ‘stockpiled’ ivory permitted for export to Singapore in 2002. In addition, in 2002 some 60 tonnes of ivory from South Africa, Botswana and Namibia was ‘released’ with CITES’ blessing to Japan.

      In 2008, again to “quell” demand and “reduce prices,” CITES once more (naively in retrospect) blessed ‘stockpiles’ of ivory to be exported. Since 2008, ivory demand and prices paid have risen exponentially (the price of ivory has skyrocketed from USD $5/kg in 1989 to a wholesale price of USD $2,100/kg in China in 2014), contrary to CITES’ quaint belief that the opposite would be true.

      Again, if lifting the international ban on the rhino horn trade is such a cast-iron opportunity (for conservation of the wild species) as you, Hume and the PROA claim, then why aren’t those in international law enforcement and study of the criminal networks smuggling rhino horn (and wildlife trafficking in general) advocating international legalisation of trade as ‘the’ solution?

      And, renewable/sustainable rhino horn harvesting is not followed by the poachers and those demanding proof of wild rhino sourcing – so as long as rhino poaching is perpetuated/stimulated, then rhino will die – that is the downside risk that legal rhino horn trading risks, more poaching and more rhino deaths.

      For any ‘legal’ trade to work, then enforcement of the law against illicit behaviour is vital (or parallel markets are created) – so, you also need enforcement to work if you advocate for legal trade (assuming the objective is to save the species and not just to profit). Here’s an example of the sheer lack of political will to enforce anti-poaching at KZN:

      The point of the above article and the report cited, is that CITES and law enforcement in non-compliant countries is complacent and ineffective. Adding legal trade into that environment is unlikely to help the species (but will help make profits regardless).

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