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Blood Ivory Surges – Major Seizure in Hong Kong

Customs authorities in Hong Kong have seized over 1,000 kg of African ivory worth almost $1.5m. This concealed shipment of 779 tusks is the third largest seizure in just three months and was smuggled by sea from Kenya via Malaysia. A routine x-ray scan of a shipping container reported to contain “archaeological stones” revealed the...

Customs authorities in Hong Kong have seized over 1,000 kg of African ivory worth almost $1.5m. This concealed shipment of 779 tusks is the third largest seizure in just three months and was smuggled by sea from Kenya via Malaysia. A routine x-ray scan of a shipping container reported to contain “archaeological stones” revealed the tusks hidden in five wooden crates under valueless rocks. Hong Kong is an important trade and logistics hub and authorities will not tolerate being taken advantage of by ivory smugglers. On 20 October 2012, customs officials found nearly four tonnes of ivory in two shipments worth almost $3.5m. This bust was followed by another seizure of over 1 tonne the next month. The resurgence in the trade in African ivory is driven by increasing demand in China and Thailand for jewelry and ornamental items. China is building roads, bridges, canals, dams and oil fields in Africa. The new headquarters of the African Union in Ethiopia was built and funded by China and stands as a monument of their increasing dominance on the continent. This dominance and unparalleled access to people and markets is fueling this resurgence in the ivory trade and the widespread slaughter of African elephants. Armed militia in Africa have been finance by ivory, oil, diamonds and precious minerals for over 150 years and militias like the “Janjaweed” and “Lord’s Resistance Army” have been recently linked with people buying and commissioning ivory from China and Japan. In 2012, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) said that elephant poaching levels were at their highest levels in a decade and recorded ivory seizures are at their highest levels since 1989.


Chris John, Editor-In-Chief of National Geographic Magazine, explains: “Every year at least 25,000 elephants are killed by poachers for their tusks to feed the hunger of ivory collectors and the market for religious objects. The slaughter is massive and accelerating. The very existence of these magnificent beasts is at risk… Elephant poaching declined after the 1989 ban on ivory sales, but that trend has now reversed…” Over 600 rhinos were killed in southern Africa in 2012… Their horns hacked off by poachers when they were still alive. The bushmeat trade is booming throughout Africa. Hundreds of thousands of wild African grey parrots have been captured and shipped off to emerging markets. Lions are disappearing. Mountain gorillas are almost beyond help. There are less than 300 Sumatran rhinos left in the wild. Only four northern white rhino from northern and eastern Africa remain in captivity. African elephants now occupy a fraction of their original distributional range and their Asian counterparts are restricted to small, isolated pockets. We are standing on the precipice of a mass extinction and Africa is just about to be lost forever. We should have hundreds of millions of dollars being poured into a collective effort to save the remaining wild elephants and rhinos on earth. We are fascinated by the fossils we find in the ground and gaze in wonder at them in our museums. Now we seem intent on creating our own as part of the most devastating mass extinction of all time. In many ways the bones of dinosaurs wired together in the entrance hall of a natural history museum are far more accessible to the majority of people than a forest elephant in the Congo forests. I do not know why you should care about a wild elephant, but I do and believe in my heart that you should too… Please watch this report by Sky News and read the National Geographic article by Bryan Christy in the November 2012 issue.


Text: Chris Johns / Photo: I. M. Chait
"This 44-inch-long Chinese phoenix, carved in the 1920s, is one of a pair of tusks that sold in the U.S. for $24,400. (Text: Chris Johns / Photo: I. M. Chait)


Art is beautiful. Art speaks to the very essence of culture and transcends race, country and social status. Art shows us just how amazing we human beings can really be… I have picked up many small pieces of ivory in the African bush and to better understand our human obsession with this valuable commodity have tried to carve and work with it. The yellow surface quickly gives way to a pure white “ivory” that holds the knife blade and allows me to create wonderful flowing curves that can morph into sharp angles and sharp edges. I could never re-create the figurines I saw on my grandfather’s mantlepiece, but I can understand why people have been obsessed with it for millennia… This is, however, not a world of infinite abundance anymore. This is a different world with 7 billion people and not one inch that has not been touched in some way. We have seen our planet from space and can fly around the equator in a day. Our modern lives keep us focussed on money as our only way of being safe and this keeps us detached from the reality that the little piece of ivory on our bracelet is one of millions of pieces on millions of wrists. The only way these pieces of ivory were obtained was the bloody death of hundreds of thousands of elephants. There is no other way of sourcing ivory and we need to address the mass consumption of wildlife products as a global community of billions of people. I promise you that five minutes in the presence of a wild elephants will make you feel more alive than any piece of art ever will…


Steve Boyes
Please help us make sure that this little elephant that, has not even grown tusks yet, is able to grow up without the threat of being shot... This will be a global effort that all of us need to be involved in... (Steve Boyes)

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Meet the Author

Author Photo Steve Boyes
Steve Boyes has dedicated his life to conserving Africa's wilderness areas and the species that depend upon them. After having worked as a camp manager and wilderness guide in the Okavango Delta and doing his PhD field work on the little-known Meyer's Parrot, Steve took up a position as a Centre of Excellence Postdoctoral Fellow at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. He has since been appointed the Scientific Director of the Wild Bird Trust and is a 2014 TED Fellow. His work takes him all over Africa, but his day-to-day activities are committed to South Africa's endemic and Critically Endangered Cape Parrot (Poicephalus robustus). Based in Hogsback Village in the Eastern Cape (South Africa), Steve runs the Cape Parrot Project, which aims to stimulate positive change for the species through high-quality research and community-based conservation action. When not in Hogsback, Steve can be found in the Okavango Delta where he explores remote areas of this wetland wilderness on "mokoros" or dug-out canoes to study endangered bird species in areas that are otherwise inaccessible. Steve is a 2013 National Geographic Emerging Explorer for his work in the Okavango Delta and on the Cape Parrot Project.