Friday, 8 November 2013

Exposing myths: Chinese connections in African ivory & rhino horn markets
Wildlife Extra News
October 2013

For the first time, journalists from mainland China worked with African journalists on an undercover investigation into the Chinese connection with ivory and rhino horns market in South Africa and Mozambique

Courtesy of Oxpeckers Center for Investigative Environmental Journalists (oxpeckers.org)

October 2013. Wildlife trafficking syndicates brazenly sell rhino horn and ivory at Chinese markets in Southern Africa's capital cities, in the face of global attempts to crack down on the illicit trade in endangered species.

China is responsible for an estimated 70% of the world trade in ivory, and research by the international wildlife trade monitoring organisation Traffic indicates that nearly 80% of the reported seizures of illegal rhino horns in Asia between 2009 and late last year happened in China.

Bruma flea market and New Chinatown
Chinese journalists on an undercover assignment discovered that the Bruma flea market and nearby New Chinatown in eastern Johannesburg are the hub of the illicit trade in rhino horns and ivory in South Africa. Transactions between African sellers and Asian buyers occur relatively openly and daily.

From 9am to 5pm, sellers hang around the entrance to the Bruma flea market and eagerly surround Chinese people as they approach. "What are you looking for? Do you want xiangya? I have," says Mike, a seller who hails from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"Do you have xiniujiao?" we asked. Xiangya is the Chinese term for ivory, xiniujiao for rhino horns, and it is clear Mike, as well as many other shop owners, is familiar with the terms.

"Xiniujiao... anytime but now. If you come back next month, maybe I could help you get some. Now it is impossible," says Mike. He opens a door which is covered by a hanged blanket, shows us into a secret room near his craft shop where he has a stock of worked ivory products: small sculptures of elephants, chopsticks, necklaces, bracelets. The price is not too expensive, ranging from R200 a piece.

Matt, a Zimbabwean who works in Mike's craft shop, says most of the rhino horns and ivory they are selling comes from his home country. He explains how he imports it: "There is a river that divides the two countries and we find a part where the water is not too deep and there is almost no security patrolling. We take off our clothes and carry the stuff on our shoulders across the river." His biggest concern appears to be that there are crocodiles in some parts of the river.


The research released by WWF in September indicates that Vietnamese presently dominate the rhino horn trade, but non-Asians often find it hard to differentiate between Chinese and Vietnamese people.

Maputo: Hot spot for ivory
Among the Chinese residents of Johannesburg, it is common knowledge that the Chinese buy ivory and rhino horn much more often in Maputo, capital city of neighbouring Mozambique.

We visit the Saturday market at Praça 25 de Junho in Maputo, where we have learnt that buying such products is a "must do" for employees of Chinese companies who are not well educated and have unskilled jobs.

"The products are unique and cheap," says Chen, a frequent Chinese buyer in Maputo who works for a Chinese construction company.

At the Saturday market, Kai, a 29-year-old working for a Chinese telecommunications company, is shooting a video to send to his families in China. "Hello dears, look where I am. This is the most famous ivory market here, I will bring you some good stuff," he says.

Shop owners like Adam are visibly excited when they see a group of Chinese people approaching. "Come, we have heimu and xiangya," he says. He says the Chinese are generally interested in buying two things in Mozambique: heimu, which is a black wood, and xiangya, namely ivory.

He also offers rhino horns at US$15 000 dollars a kilogram, though he says he does not keep it in the marketplace because it is too expensive. He opens a big box filled with various ivory products and displays them openly. However, when some Chinese customers lift the ivory too high he asks them to put them down, in case the police notice and make trouble.

Unlike the Saturday "ivory market", the craft market on nearby Mao Tse Tung Avenue opens every day. Chen, who has worked for a Maputo-based Chinese construction company for the past two years, is going back home in December and needs to stock up on souvenirs for friends and families.

He buys two pairs of ivory chopsticks, and says even though they may be confiscated by customs he can afford the loss. "Sometimes they pass and these things are cheap enough to be taken away if we have bad luck," he says.

A colleague recently bought a large ivory sculpture and when it was found by customs officers in Mozambique he paid $300 to get it through. No one at customs in Beijing found it, Chen says.


Don't care about the slaughter of elephants
Most of the Chinese buyers know where the ivory comes from, but don't care about the slaughter of elephants. Kai, one of the buyers of ivory bracelets, sums up their feeling when he admits that he did not feel guilty about buying ivory products even though he knows how the sellers get it.

However, there are some Chinese who refuse to buy into the market. "These items are art from killing," says Xu, a friend and colleague of Kai. But he indicates that there are few Chinese like him.

This investigation by the Oxpeckers Center for Investigative Environmental Journalists (oxpeckers.org) was supported by the Forum for African Investigative Reporters (fairreporters.net) and the Wits China-Africa Reporting Project
 
Full Article at the following link:
http://www.wildlifeextra.com/go/news/maputo-ivory013.html#cr
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For further information on elephants please see Save the Elephants' web site

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