Published 13 September 2010


Chinese citizens risk imprisonment for ivory smuggling

Beijing, China, 13th September 2010—Police in Congo said last week they had arrested three Chinese men carrying six suitcases full of elephant tusks.

China's National Tourism Administration distributed leaflets ahead of the World Cup to remind travellers not to bring back ivory or other endangered wildlife products.

The men were caught at Lumumbashi's airport while attempting to fly to Nairobi, Kenya.

Last month, a Chinese citizen in Kenya was sentenced to 18 months in prison for illegal possession of wildlife products after 10 pairs of ivory chopsticks and ivory bracelets were discovered in his luggage.

These are among a number of cases involving Chinese citizens smuggling ivory out of Africa. 

“In 2009, the Chinese government seized ivory products from citizens returning to China on 710 separate occasions—the highest number of reported ivory seizures in a single year by any country in the world”, said Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC’s ivory expert. 

In July and August 2010, several Chinese tourists returning from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa were found with African Elephant ivory in their possession by Chinese Customs officers.

Before the World Cup began, the National Tourism Administration (NTA), China CITES Management Authority, and TRAFFIC co-produced 100,000 Africa Travellers Guidance leaflets to remind Chinese tourists not to buy or to bring back endangered wildlife products. The leaflets were distributed through nine NTA provincial branches.

Although most Chinese travellers are aware of the laws and regulations relating to ivory, some decided to risk smuggling ivory into the country anyway. 

“Recent years have witnessed an increase in international travel by Chinese nationals and travellers need to be aware of the laws controlling trade in ivory,” said Professor Xu Hongfa, Director of TRAFFIC’s China Programme. 

“In particular, travellers should avoid purchasing endangered wildlife products and bringing them home. Even items openly on sale abroad may be illegal to bring home. 

“The message is simple—If in doubt, don’t buy.” 

Both African and Asian Elephants are listed in CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), which strictly controls the trade in ivory and ivory products. 

Currently, China and Kenya are among more than 170 countries worldwide who are Parties to CITES. Traveling into and out of such countries with unauthorized ivory and its products is illegal, and anyone doing so faces being charged with smuggling endangered wildlife, which usually carries stiff penalties. 

Despite awareness campaigns, border controls and even a number of strictly regulated outlets where ivory can legally be bought in China, a black market in ivory still persists in the country. 

On Friday 10th September, officials in Hong Kong reported the seizure of 384 African Elephant tusks from Tanzania, although the final destination of the consignment was not disclosed. 

Since 2006, TRAFFIC has conducted regular domestic market surveys, looking for such ivory. Information gathered has been used by law enforcement agencies such as the Forest Public Security Departments to take effective action against any illegal trade uncovered. 

TRAFFIC continues to work closely with the relevant government departments, and last year helped train enforcement officers and ivory workers in Shanghai and Hangzhou on ivory trade management. 

“Given the harsh penalties for smuggling ivory into China, it seems incredible that some travellers are prepared to risk years in jail doing so—particularly when they can legally buy ivory at home,” said Professor Xu Hongfa. 

“Making travellers aware of the risks they are taking in carrying ivory should be a priority of both government and non governmental organizations.”