Looking For Elephant Ivory? Try China
Armed with tips from animal welfare activists, I recently went on an ivory hunt with my Chinese assistant, Yang, in an antiques market in Beijing.
Activists say China's growing purchasing power is driving global demand for products from vulnerable animals, everything from elephant ivory to rhino horn.
Two huge stone lions stood sentinel outside the four-story market nestled among a forest of buildings off one of Beijing's beltways. In China, vendors usually accost shoppers and try to lure them into stores.
I was the only foreign face in the market. Shop clerks suspected I was there to investigate, which in a sense I was.
Yang fared better. Four out of the nine shops he visited showed him illegal ivory, including bracelets and a necklace that cost more than $300.
"The ivory was hidden in a box, and the box was under the counter," Yang said afterward, describing the ivory necklace.
Despite occasional crackdowns and even prison sentences, scores of shops in China continue to sell illegal ivory, according to outside investigators.
Last November, the International Fund for Animal Welfare cased the same mall that Yang and I did, and the group found more than 20 shops selling illegal ivory.
A separate survey last year by Esmond Martin, a renowned analyst of the ivory trade, found nearly 4,000 illegal ivory pieces for sale in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou.
Martin said he found twice as much ivory for sale in Guangzhou than he did during a similar survey in 2004.
Pushing Up Prices
Grace Gabriel, Asia regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, says Chinese aren't just buying more ivory these days; they're also pushing up prices.
She says the price for raw elephant tusk has more than tripled in the past year from as low as $270 a pound to more than $900 a pound.