China is not the sole perpetrator of underhanded ivory trade, as a new study finds; the US is in second place for the largest ivory market in the world.
The study was published by British-based conservation group Care for the Wild International (CWI), and was conducted by Esmond Martin, a conservationist and researcher, and Daniel Stiles, an anthropologist and wildlife trade investigator. They investigated thousands of retail outlets in 16 American cities between March and December 2006 and March and May 2007, according to an article in National Geographic.
The most common types of ivory items found for sale were netsukes (miniature sculptures), human figurines, and jewelry, most originating from China and Japan. Americans purchasing ivory from China also feeds their demand; so the U.S. has partial blame for the huge Chinese ivory market as well.
There are loopholes in the United States African Elephant Conservation Act and Endangered Species Act that make it possible for black market traders to "legally" import ivory products to the States.
One that is commonly used is to claim the ivory product as an antique, which somehow makes distribution legal.
The U.S. law states that any ivory product at least 100 years old supersedes the law's restrictions. But as you might have guessed, ivory traders aren't the most honest folk; they tend to lie about when the ivory goods were made, and falsify the required documents.
"Nearly one-third of the items we found, about 7,400 pieces, likely had been smuggled in into the U.S. since the 1990 ivory trade ban," Esmond Martin said in the Nat Geo article.
Another loophole in the law is tusks from hunted African elephants can be brought into the United States only as a game trophy. Hunters who go over to Africa to slaughter elephants legally, end up selling it in the states illegally - further feeding the ivory trade.
The CWI report also notes that there are more ivory crafters in the U.S. than in Europe, and that the ivory is acquired through the internet, auctions, and estate sales; which are largely unregulated by U.S. officials.
"The most common types of ivory items manufactured by U.S. ivory craftsmen are scrimshawed knife handles and tusk tips or plaques, pistol grips, billiard cue inlays, jewelry, parts for musical instruments, and Nantucket baskets, or baskets decorated with ivory," the report says.