The price of ivory taken from African elephants has tripled in the past four years in China, the world's biggest market, conservationists said on Thursday.
“The surge in the price… is driving a wave of killing of elephants across Africa that shows little sign of abating,” campaign group Save the Elephants said in a new report.
“With the ivory price in Africa a tenth of that in China, substantial profits are being generated for organised crime that fuels insecurity, corruption, and deprives local communities of valuable income.”
In May 2014 long-time ivory researchers Esmond Martin & Lucy Vigne conducted a month-long survey of hundreds of Chinese retail outlets and factories in Beijing and Shanghai and contrasted their findings with prices they had established in Fuzhou four years previously.
“The average price paid by craftsmen or factory owners, for good quality, privately-owned 1-4kg elephant tusks in Beijing in early 2014 was $2,100 (Shs182,700) per kilogram. The average price for similar tusks in 2010 was $750 per kg,” said Dr Martin.
This week wildlife group Traffic warned that Thailand's ivory market was "out of control" and that the number of ivory products on sale in Bangkok had nearly trebled in the past year.
Save the Elephants estimates an average of 33,000 elephants were lost to poachers every year between 2010 and 2012.
"Without concerted international action to reduce the demand for ivory, measures to reduce the killing of elephants for ivory will fail," said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants. A full report on the study, supported by the Elephant Crisis Fund and The Aspinall Foundation, is in production.
"Although half a world away, China holds the key to the future of the African elephant."
The group has also tracked ivory sales within Africa, discovering that Lagos in Nigeria, followed by Luanda in Angola, has the largest numbers of ivory trinkets on sale.
While Lagos stallholders are secretive and aware of regulations, salesmen in Luanda appeared unconcerned about getting caught selling illegal ivory.
Organised crime syndicates and rebel militia increasingly use poaching to fund insurgencies, reaping the benefits of multi-billion-dollar demand for ivory in China.