- Undercover investigations in Sudan by environmentalist groups had revealed the Sudanese military was behind a growing illicit trade in ivory, making Sudan the new major world hub in this trade. Tusks of elephants poached in southern Sudan and all over Central Africa were traded in Khartoum, a new report claims.
The UK-based organisation Care for the Wild (CFTW) has released a report based on "undercover investigation" in Sudan, saying the country is "rapidly becoming one of the world’s major hubs for the illegal trade in elephant ivory." The investigations were undertaken by Esmond Martin, a leading expert on the illegal ivory trade. Dr Martin says he counted more than 11,000 ivory pieces on sale during his stay in Sudan.
According to the report, the tusk observed in Sudan come from elephants illegally slaughtered in southern Sudan and neighbour countries such as Congo Kinshasa (DRC) and the Central African Republic. Tusks were increasingly arriving in Sudan's capital Khartoum "for carving into souvenirs catering for foreign nationals and tourists," the report says.
Dr Martin claims that "the Sudanese military is at the centre of a highly organised poaching and trading racket in illegal ivory, with poachers reportedly using military firearms and ammunition, and government transport vehicles being used to transport illegally poached elephant tusks to Khartoum and the Arabic city of Omdurman," just outside Khartoum.
- This unregulated trade in ivory is having a devastating impact on elephant populations in Central Africa, CFTW says. Central African nationals and Sudanese poachers were responsible for decimating elephants in the eastern Central African Republic during the 1990s, and increasing evidence suggested that killing has now begun in Congo Kinshasa as well.
In addition to feeding demand for tourist souvenirs in Khartoum, significant quantities of tusks were believed to be being exported to Egypt, another major hub in the illegal ivory trade. The ivory trade in Khartoum and Omdurman further was connected with the large, illegal Chinese ivory market.
On-site research by CFTW had discovered that Chinese buyers accounted for about three-quarters of all the ivory items purchased. South Koreans, Saudis and buyers from several other Arabic states had also been identified as major players. There are several thousand expatriate Chinese in Sudan working in the petroleum, construction and mining sectors. According to vendors, they are frequently in the souvenir shops, spending their leisure time choosing souvenirs, mainly ivory, to purchase.
Organised Chinese ivory trade networks were also said to be purchasing tusks in Khartoum and the Central African Republic for illegal export to the Far East. Since the 1990s, China has been the world's largest importing nation of illegal ivory tusks, environmentalist groups agree, with many tusks coming from Central African region.
Investigations undertaken by Dr Martin further had established that the Sudanese military – and a smaller number of private traders – were selling tusks wholesale to the owners of craft workshops and souvenir outlets in Khartoum and Omdurman for between US$ 44 and US$ 148 per kilogram. Ivory craftsmen were "working six days a week to meet demand for wildlife souvenirs, jewellery and figurines," CTFW said.
A survey of 50 souvenir shops in Khartoum, Omdurman and Khartoum North carried out by Dr Martin in February revealed more than 11,000 ivory items on sale. Individual shops carried between 2 and 1,021 ivory objects. Animal figurines, pendants, rings, bangles, human figurines, earrings and chopsticks were amongst items observed on sale. Prices were low, illustrating the widespread availability of ivory and cheap labour. A ring costs the purchaser a mere US $2, a 4-cm pendant US$ 3, and a pair of chopsticks US$ 13, Dr Martin established.
Dr Martin's investigations had also revealed that an increasing number of elephant tusks were moving from Sudan into Egypt, where there is a flourishing trade in ivory. Previous research discovered that around 100 craftsmen in Egypt were processing Central African ivory, brought into Egypt through Sudan. The markets in Cairo, Luxor and Aswan were found to hold over 20,000 ivory objects and ivory products were still plentiful in Egyptian cities.
The ivory trade expert today called for immediate action to combat the illegal trade in Sudan. He called for a specific crackdown on the Chinese buyers and traders: "In order to battle against this illegal trade it is imperative to tackle the Chinese; both the buyers of trinkets in Sudan, and the traders who purchase the raw ivory for China's domestic trade in ivory," Dr Martin said.
The sale of ivory items in Sudan is legal if the shopkeeper has a government licence, and if the ivory items have been carved from old ivory. But no items made from tusks from recently killed Sudanese elephants are permitted, nor items from imported tusks that date after the 1990 ivory ban of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
- Almost all the ivory items recently observed for sale in Sudan are from new tusks however, Dr Martin reports. He was told that government officials rarely inspect the shops to check whether the ivory is legal or not. As in the case for the world ivory trade, all ivory, whether tusks or ivory items - except antiques with official permits - bought by tourists or for commercial use cannot be exported or imported by countries complying with CITES.
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