Thousands of pieces of ivory found for sale

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Ivory items on sale - Photo credit: Prof Vincent Nijman

A team from Oxford Brookes and the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC have found more than 3300 pieces of ivory and close to 50 raw ivory elephant tusks openly for sale in Mong La, a town on the Myanmar side of the country’s border with China.

The majority of inhabitants, including ivory vendors, in Mong La are from China, with the currency of daily use the Chinese Yuan Renminbi. According to sources, ivory enters the town from China, mostly already carved.  

Twenty-seven shops were found offering ivory for sale, most of it likely to originate from Africa, where the carved hippo teeth also on display undoubtedly originated. Several shops were openly showcasing hundreds of carved pieces of ivory in glass display cases. 

“Our observations suggest Mong La may be one of the biggest unregulated ivory markets in Asia, and it is doubtless one of those where ivory is most openly displayed,” said Professor Vincent Nijman, from Oxford Brookes University. 

It means Mong La could rank alongside markets in Bangkok in Thailand and Guangzhou in China, long-known as centres for the illegal domestic and international ivory trade.

Trade in ivory is largely illegal in Myanmar - there may be some authorized trade in the tusk tips of legally-owned elephants - and cross-border trade of ivory is not permitted under guidelines agreed upon by countries that are signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). 

“It is clear that neither Myanmar nor China are effectively enforcing CITES regulations, as ivory is evidently moving across the border,” said Professor Nijman.

Volumes of ivory found in the markets of Mong La were higher than at any point since TRAFFIC first started monitoring wildlife trade in the border town in 2006.

“Increasing volumes of ivory in an open cross-border market catering to Chinese consumers is a sure sign that international agreements are not being enforced and action to reduce ivory demand is not effective,” said Dr Chris R Shepherd, Director of TRAFFIC in South-East Asia. 

Further information is available on the TRAFFIC
website. Find out more about Oxford Brookes’ Department of Social Sciences on the University’s  website