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Illegal Ivory Trade on the Rise, Global Analysis Finds

Washington - Demand in Africa and Asia continues to drive an increase in illegal trade of elephant ivory, an analysis of global seizure records finds. At least 4,000 elephants a year are being killed to supply the global demand for ivory carvings, jewelry and other products, experts estimate.

Progress is being made in China, the single largest market, but unregulated ivory markets elsewhere continue to drive the illegal killing of thousands of elephants annually. The analysis was done by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network of World Wildlife Fund and IUCN-The World Conservation Union.

"Even though a global ban on ivory trade has been in place since 1989, the analysis found that illicit trade in ivory has been on the rise in the past decade," said Ginette Hemley, vice president for species conservation at World Wildlife Fund. "The one bright spot is that the rate of increase appears to be slowing."

The TRAFFIC report, based on a statistical analysis of more than 9,400 seizure records from 75 countries, will be on the agenda when 166 countries meet to discuss wildlife trade at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok next month.

The international community, acting through CITES, imposed a global ban on commercial trade in ivory in 1989, when uncontrolled trade was driving the poaching of an estimated 100,000 African elephants a year for their tusks.

TRAFFIC's analysis found that China and Thailand in Asia and Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Nigeria in Africa are the six countries most implicated in illegal ivory trading. The countries function as major suppliers, manufacturing centers and consumer markets for ivory. As demand for ivory in these countries continues, poaching of elephants in parts of Africa is on the rise, WWF noted.

"Illegal ivory markets are having a direct impact on elephant populations, particularly in west and central Africa," Hemley said. "Consumers need to realize the true cost of buying ivory is poached elephants."

The ivory market in China - where economic changes in recent years have fueled more consumer spending - continues to be the single most important influence on the upward trend in illegal trade, although TRAFFIC noted that Chinese authorities have improved law enforcement efforts in the last two years.

Thailand, as host for the CITES conference next month, will be in the spotlight as home to the largest documented retail ivory market in the world. Conservationists are concerned that loopholes in Thailand's legislation allow the trade to flourish, with one survey finding more than 88,000 ivory products for sale.

A host of African countries, too, are increasingly under pressure to stop tolerating unregulated ivory trade at home, with lesser but still important players emerging such as Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Sudan.