These are the search results for “JELLY” on Taobao,
the Chinese internet-shopping platform.
Offered among the same suppliers’ hundreds, even thousands, of ivory items, were carved pangolin scales, rhino-horn medallions, so-called karma (beaded) bracelets, hornbill and turtle jewellery, tiger-bone items and, nowadays, a lot of elephant-skin jewellery.
Prior to a payment and shipping for the tiger-bone items via the WeChat Wallet, the supplier in question sent customer references to assure us that he could be trusted with such transactions.
The items indeed arrived in a very timely fashion. The package was delivered to the concierge at our hotel in Guangzhou and we picked it up without any kind of problem. The samples have, in the meantime, gone to a Swiss lab for testing to see if they are real or fake.
You’ve got mail — the author opens the tiger items ordered from the
internet after they arrived at his hotel.
They could even be from lion, seeing this species is at the centre of another big new scam — thanks, in no small part, to South Africa’s decision to export 800 lion skeletons a year. These end up being sold as sought-after tiger-bone products. We have key dealers confirming as much on hidden camera, insisting that nobody can tell the difference.
One trader informed our intermediary: all items offered on his platform as legal mammoth ivory were, in fact, from elephant.
Now that melting permafrost is delivering large numbers of mammoth tusks into the hands of traders, there are also bogus mammoth-ivory outlets popping up. Legally and illegally exporting tons of the stuff out of Siberia into China each year, the local traders then pass it off as elephant products — thereby creating a growing loophole to launder elephant ivory.
Mammoth ivory can be bought at Guangzhou airport, China.
After you have passed through customs and immigration control, you can even waltz into such an outlet at the departure area of Guangzhou airport, supposedly offering a wide range of mammoth-ivory products.
I have admired some fantastic art pieces carved out of elephant and mammoth ivory over the years.
Looking at big pieces, even a layman can tell the difference by identifying the “Schreger lines” or cross-hatchings, which are not present in elephant ivory.
I have also read the tales of a handful of old-fashioned expert carvers — considered part of China’s cultural heritage — now having to work with the mammoth tusks because the end-products, unlike elephant ivory, can still be sold legally.
Computerized Ivory Carving set up
Combined with more and more machine carving of evermore mass-produced ivory trinkets, from bangles to chopsticks, it is the story you do not generally read in the international press’s feel-good reports — a “massing up” of the market is clearly taking place to cater to these new demographics with cheaper and cheaper products.
In the old days, one used to encounter elaborate carvings sold for tens of thousands of dollars. I am convinced that these top-end ivory items have not driven the market for many years. With increasing wealth in Chinese society, a bigger population sector can afford lower-level ivory status products. Status is what drives the markets.
Observing young people trying on a range of bracelets in a shop in Mong Lah, sending home images and offering to bring some of these supposedly bargain deals back with them, became the norm.
During the most recent trip we interviewed a Chinese wildlife-trade expert on why the new ban regulations should be considered the end of elephant poaching.
The answer we got from Wei Jei, who briefs and trains forestry officials in China? Things might, indeed, get worse.
At least the legal ivory trade offered some sort of safety valve, which has now lapsed. As we see with the rhino-horn trade, there is also a real chance that the “reverse-stigma syndrome” will come into play: this means that showing off illegal items carries more status and is sexier. Establishing oneself as being above the law is part of this equation.
All indications are that the demand is increasing.
Completed to establish a baseline for further evaluating the new regulations’ impact, a TRAFFIC survey seems to bear out these trends.
The wildlife-monitoring network conducted the survey — “Demand under the ban: China ivory consumption research 2017” — in 15 cities throughout the Middle Kingdom.
Three findings stuck out:
- “Forty-three percent claimed that they intend to purchase ivory in the future, but the percentage dropped to 18% after hearing of the ban.
- “Fifty-one percent of millennials have heard of the ban and, when prompted, 21% intended to buy ivory post-ban.
- “Those who travel overseas have bought significantly more ivory in the past than those who never travel.” In the context of the regional travel, the evidence of totally new demand-and-supply characteristics have been documented.
Today China presides over a human population of 1.4 billion people. If even 18% of them are ready to buy more ivory despite the ban, we are potentially looking at 250 million illegal ivory consumers, at the very least.
I do not even dare to calculate the total consumption, and what that would mean for the number of dead elephants this demand would exact — multiplied by the fact that, once you have purchased the item and wear it to a party, there seems to be nothing illegal about it.
I also question the value of these surveys when the average city dweller — seeing the survey was conducted in urban centres — would by now have some inkling of why these questions are being asked and what answers they should give as supposedly law-abiding citizens. As such, I found it amazing that 18% would declare that they did not care about the law.
That China has a better-engineered control system for internet access than any other nation is well known. There are accounts that up to two-million people in China are paid salaries to control the web. If there was real interest in controlling the illegal trade, it could be done much more effectively than what we have documented.
In 2004, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) completed a web survey of illegal wildlife products offered online, concluding that they had found 1,390 ivory items on major Chinese web-trading platforms.
The report goes on to state:
“A year-long random check of the four major e-commerce websites for CITES I-listed species was conducted. Although all of the monitored websites have imposed a ban on ivory and [have a]‘no endangered species and their products’ policy, a total of 1,937 wildlife products from over 30 species were found on these websites.”
At present, there are websites with similar numbers offered by one dealer alone. Dozens of them are operating.
Take the Alibaba group, China’s leading online marketplace and parent company of key trading-platform Taobao.
Here we have the 2014 case of global luxury group Kering taking Alibaba to court in New York for copyright infringement and selling counterfeit products, including their Gucci bags.
There was an out-of-court settlement, plus a nicely timed feature in China Daily outlining why Alibaba leads the online fight against fakes.
The text tells of some 100 employees shopping on their own platform, buying 100,000 products on offer, spending around 100 million Yuan a year.
These products are then analysed in an Alibaba-owned warehouse and tested.
In cases of infractions, their analytics team then decides which cases to hand to law enforcement. In 2016, it was 1,184 cases, resulting in the arrest of 880 suspects and supposedly the closure of 1,419 counterfeit manufacturing outfits.
Would it be so far-fetched for non-governmental organisations such as IFAW, WWF, the Wildlife Conservation Society or WildAid, already spending millions in China on consumer demand-reduction campaigns, to file a similar legal case?
As long as these web platforms and the dealers who use them constantly create new products for new demographics, demand-reduction spend on awareness campaigns must surely be greatly compromised.
While one side is legal and the other is not, would that not also allow NGO damage claims from these website operators for their inaction when it comes to encouraging more consumers and demand? It would certainly add to the risk/ reward scenario where it involves the traders and companies who own these platforms.
Mass-produced fake ivory for sale in China.
I doubt that the relevant authorities will be prepared to further clamp down on rogue traders/ platforms of their own accord. In my experience, the average Chinese citizen as well as official seems to think that he or she has a cultural right to these products. As long as window-dressing and lip service do the trick, that is the strategy they will pursue.
The Kering approach and general naming-and-shaming might have the best chance to result in some real change.
As it stands, the closure of China’s domestic ivory markets and the worldwide applause that it drew will last the country’s image for a few years before some new, time-consuming, large-scale survey data will result in a fresh outcry and calls for enforcement action.
Global coverage lauding China’s domestic ban on ivory.
The time has come to stop celebrating and establish what is really happening on the ground, with sales over the counter and through cyberspace. That, in turn, requires investigative work by local operatives.
When I recently questioned a major US broadsheet correspondent about their largely unqualified story trumpeting the domestic-trade decision, suggesting that they conduct some of this undercover work online, I was told that while investigative journalism was part of their agenda, the undercover aspect would be against their editorial policy.
I am glad I am not an elephant.
Read original article: https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2018-04-17-the-real-ivory-game/#.WuCQnMiFPIU