Ivory trafficking charges likely

By Mark Story

A Bay man arrested after 69 pieces of ivory were allegedly found at his home is expected to be charged with illegally trading in endangered species.

In July, Hawke's Bay Today reported the man was being questioned after the Wildlife Enforcement Group (WEG) group seized the ivory from a Napier address. Neither his age nor identity have been disclosed.

Meanwhile, 57-year-old Auckland man Jiezhen Jiang appeared in court last week on eight counts of illegally trading in an endangered species, after authorities seized items made of African elephant tusks from his home last year.

Jiang, who is retired and lives in Mellons Bay, was caught after Wildlife Enforcement Group investigators intercepted parcels posted from Portugal and England at the International Mail Centre in Auckland.

On executing a search warrant, investigators found a collection including statues, carvings and whole pieces of tusk.

Experts said the attempted imports were a sign that the growing demand for ivory in Asia had spilled over to New Zealand as "investors" began to plan for the demise of the elephant species.

"People are banking on animals becoming rare and extinct," campaigner Matt Collis, from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), said. "And the rarer they become, the more profitable it is to own whatever part of it they find desirable."

The trade of ivory has been heavily restricted since 1989 under a "ban" imposed by member countries of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna. However, in the past five years, smuggling has surged dramatically. According to seizure figures, 2012 has been the worst year for global ivory smuggling since records began, with 34 tonnes of illegal material seized so far, up from 24 tonnes last year.

It is believed that at least 5000 and up to 50,000 elephants are being killed each year, with Africa in the midst of an epic slaughter, according to conservation groups.

A report by WWF International has warned that the ivory trade even threatened Africa's governments, as rebel groups such as the Lord's Resistance Army used the sale of tusks to fund their wars. Poaching in some countries is said to be out of control, the Guardian newspaper wrote this week, citing figures from southern Sudan that showed the elephant population, estimated at 130,000 in 1986, had crashed to 5000.

The demand for ivory is being largely driven from China.

Jiang was remanded at large without plea, and will appear again on February 13. It's understood the Napier man will be formally charged next year.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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