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Seized elephant tusks are displayed by customs authorities in Hong Kong in October. Ivory smuggling has fallen due to strict law enforcement in China in recent years. Provided to China Daily
China's strict registration and management system can effectively keep illegal ivory from entering the domestic market, experts say.
According to Jin Yu, a researcher at Northeast Forestry University, China has launched an information control system stricter than the standards of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as CITES.
CITES is an international convention that regulates the ivory trade, and monitors ivory stockpiles, consumption and products.
"On every finished product, there is an ID card with information regarding the product's appearance, size and digital code, which can be used to obtain further information, including its original material, from an online database," she said.
"It's the only way to prove an ivory product is legal and should always be carried when selling or transporting ivory.
"Any trade without such a certificate can be identified as illegal."
However, lack of expertise and experience may cause inaccurate surveys and reports that lead to allegations that the market has ivory products from illegal sources, Jin said.
ID system aids
The registration system tracks ivory until it is a finished product, and cross-checks each stage of development for weight gain, Jin said.
This identification system, introduced in 2003, has greatly helped police, customs and other law enforcement officials crack down on illegal ivory, Jin said, adding: "Ivory products from legal stockpiles auctioned in 2008 are not allowed to go outside of China."
In addition, all factories that manufacture ivory products and stores that sell them are registered.
"Only with approval from the government that is published online can the manufacturers and stores be in the business at appointed places," said Yan Xun, an official with the State Forestry Administration. "Factories and stores without such approval are punished," he added.
"This helps law enforcement officers crack down on illegal operations," he said.
China's strict penalties for illegal trading in ivory, including smuggling, have deterred offenders, Yan said.
"The highest sentence is life imprisonment, which is one of the strictest punishments in the world."
Yan said the administration has noted that tourists traveling to Africa often buy ivory ornaments and just carry them back to China, unaware that they are breaking the law.
"Chinese embassies in African countries are taking action by warning tourists not to bring those products back," he added. "Ivory products are easily detected when they go through customs and are confiscated."
As e-commerce emerged, Chinese wildlife management authorities have also taken steps to control crime in the business.
Over the past five years, concerted government efforts and significant progress have been made to implement the ivory product registration system and to raise public awareness, the International Fund for Animal Welfare said in its 2011 survey on China's ivory market.
The report said China has achieved progress in the control of online wildlife crime by educating the online industry and encouraging it to incorporate wildlife into online trade policies.
Taobao, China's largest online marketplace, banned ivory listings in 2005 and implemented the ban by education and detection of code words to eliminate the ivory listings.
The report also found that another website that traded in ivory - sc001.com.cn - has removed the ivory trading section and installed wildlife trade ban notices throughout the site.
"In 2011, not one wildlife listing was found on its site," the International Fund for Animal Welfare report said.
Taking a firm stand
Hong Lei, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said on Monday that China has taken a firm stand in the fight against wildlife crime in recent years.
From Jan 6 to Feb 5, China led an operation, code-named "Cobra", that involved 22 Asian and African countries, according to the State Forestry Administration.
The cross-border combat of wildlife crimes has uncovered more than 200 cases involving trafficked wildlife parts and led to the detention of more than 100 criminal suspects.
In the operation, 6.5 metric tons of ivory, 1.6 tons of shahtoosh (material woven from the fur of Tibetan antelope), 22 rhino horns, 10 tiger hides, as well as other protected animal and plant species and products derived from them were confiscated.
"This operation sends a powerful message to poachers and smugglers across the globe," said Edward Grace, deputy director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement. "Only as global partners can we protect the world's wildlife".
John E Scanlon, secretary-general of CITES, said that joint efforts integrating specialized investigative techniques are essential to combat transnational organized crime in wildlife.
"It shows our resolution and capability to push forward multilateral cooperation to crack down on the trafficking of wildlife products," said Yin Hong, deputy director of the State Forestry Administration.
(China Daily 02/22/2013 page4)