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an email on the price of ivory from Esmond Bradley-Martin

Esmond is one of the foremost authorities on the international ivory trade and has published scholarly works on the trade in Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America.

“Greetings from Nairobi. Yesterday I got a copy of Vanity Fair  magazine from a tourist here in Nairobi. I agree with many others who earlier emailed you that the article reads well. But on the trade side, which not many know much about first hand, there was one particularly substantial error. In Graydon Carter’s Editor’s letter on page 34 he writes based on your article ‘ He followed the blood trail from Africa to the main ivory-carving and-trading district in Guangzhou… There, the tusks that African poachers sell for $20 a pound locally will fetch more than $700 a pound before being expertly carved and sold for many times more than that’. This $700 is quoted several times in the article as well. This price is wrong! Lucy Vigne and I visited factories in southern China  in January this year and interviewed owners, managers, overseers and ivory carvers who told us that a kilo (2.2 pounds) of ivory weighing between 1 and 5 kg cost USD 750 per kg when bought privately (for legal and illegal ivory) in southern China. Some ivory factories also buy from the government at considerably lower prices. We got our figures from many separate and reliable sources in southern China.

Broadcasting your incorrect high price several times in a magazine like Vanity Fair which has a huge circulation encourages more interest in poaching elephants…”

We went back to our source on this, also an extremely reliable source who has people going undercover into ivory carving factories on a regular basis, and the source said the information was obtained “unofficially,” i.e. it was impossible to divulge it.

Another source reported that the price of ivory in Bangkok, according to Thai Customs, is $1500 a kilo, or $700 a pound, and climbing. If this is true, why would the price of ivory in China be  half that, as Esmond reports, when China is the ultimate destination and Bangkok is only a transit center, and China is where the highest demand and the great number of consumers willing to shell out for ivory objets is ?

I don’t know what the correct figure is. But either way– and I don’t see how the higher figure is going to affect poaching in Africa– the poachers would still kill elephants if the price of ivory in China was $5 a pound, if the coltan trade in congo, whose bottom fell out a few years ago but it is still flourishing– the sale of raw ivory and the purchase of worked ivory should not be happening, period, a point on which Esmond and I disagree. Esmond is in favor of regulated trade, maintaining that like Prohibition with booze, you’re never going to stop it. But the problem with regulation, allowing one-off sales of old stock ivory from southern Africa, as CITES has done twice now,  is that is doesn’t work. It provides a loophole for illegal, freshly poached ivory to be laundered and passed off as legal ivory, as I saw in Victoria Falls.