Chinese authorities announced on Monday the arrests of 16 suspected members of a smuggling ring and the seizure of nearly 1800 pounds of ivory along with rhino horns and bear paws worth $3.8 million (24 million yuan).
Police in Beijing said that as a result of a crackdown from May to August on illegal trade, officers hauled in 804 kilograms (1,770 pounds) of ivory, 11 kilograms (24 pounds) of rhino horns and 35 bear paws.
China is the world’s largest market for illegal ivory, which has been thriving under the cover of legal ivory sales. Amid criticism that demand for ivory among its rising middle class threatens African elephants, China is taking steps to fight trafficking and end ivory sales.
The country has been struggling to combat ivory smuggling for years, and officials are hoping this latest incident will put a dent in the illegal trade. CCTV’s Frances Kuo reports.
In February, China imposed a one-year ban on ivory imports. In September, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to halt commercial ivory sales in China when he was visiting the United States.
Beijing police said in a statement that the ivory was smuggled illegally from Japan to mainland China via Hong Kong. The 16 suspects were arrested by forest police, which investigate crimes involving wildlife in areas including Beijing, Hebei, Guangdong, and Shandong.
TRAFFIC, a British-based anti-wildlife trafficking group, praised the operation as a “clear demonstration of the Chinese government’s commitment to crack down on illegal wildlife trade.” In a statement, TRAFFIC said that it was possible that all the wildlife products in the case originated in Japan, where people have been selling legally-owned ivory and rhino horns from the 1980s and earlier.
Monday’s announcement came after authorities in Tanzania brought charges against 66-year-old Yang Fenglan, a Chinese woman dubbed ‘The Queen of Ivory.’ She is accused of smuggling nearly 2 tons of ivory worth $2.7 million since 2000.
Story compiled information from CCTV and AP.
The biggest seizure of smuggled ivory products in China
This marks the largest seizure of smuggled ivory products in China, the world’s largest ivory consumer. The country has been struggling to combat ivory smuggling for years, and officials hope this latest incident will put a dent in the illegal trade.
Police said the crackdown took three months and was part of the biggest anti-animal trafficking campaign in China.
But not all ivory products in China are illegal.
“To preserve the craft of ivory carving, these 34 factories need to have excellent craftsmen, and the ivory needs to be legal. We control their production amounts,” a Wildlife Conservation for State Forestry Administration officer said. “And we’re considering preserving these by not making them available for purchase.”