China's growth 'fuels ivory trade'

Economic growth in China is fuelling demand for ivory and boosting the underground trade in elephant tusks despite an international ban, United Nations experts said yesterday.

The volume of ivory seized worldwide fell for several years since the trading ban began in 1989. But rising seizures in the past four years, particularly in China, suggest illegal trading is back on the increase, the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) says in a new report.

"The change is most directly related to the emergence of demand for ivory in China," said Jim Armstrong, its deputy secretary general. "It mirrors the trend in China's trade in other resources and retail goods."

Seizures fell from 18,368kg (40,494lb) of ivory in the first year of the ban to 8,000kg in 1997. But in 1999 seizures rose to 16,400kg, half of them in China. This year, reported seizures have already reached 12,400kg, Mr Armstrong said, adding that full records can take two years to reach Cites. An average tusk weighs 3.65kg.

He said that while Chinese authorities had made high-profile seizures, they were not controlling the domestic ivory-working industry. Many carvers avoided controls by claiming they were using ivory stockpiled before 1989.

Ninety per cent of seized ivory is from Africa, home to 500,000 elephants. Asia's population is estimated to be between 35,000 and 50,000.(AP)