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Report Says Chinese Officials Bought Ivory in Tanzania


In this May 15, 2014 file photo, confiscated ivory is displayed at a chemical waste treatment center in Hong Kong. The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency said Thursday, Nov. 6, 2014 Chinese officials used a state trip by Chinese President Xi Jinping and other high-level visits to smuggle ivory out of Tanzania. In a report the environmental watchdog says Chinese-led criminal gangs conspired with corrupt Tanzanian officials to traffic huge amounts of ivory, some of which was loaded in diplomatic bags on Xi's plane during a presidential visit in March 2013. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

In this May 15, 2014 file photo, confiscated ivory is displayed at a chemical waste treatment center in Hong Kong. The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency said Thursday, Nov. 6, 2014 Chinese officials used a state trip by Chinese President Xi Jinping and other high-level visits to smuggle ivory out of Tanzania. In a report the environmental watchdog says Chinese-led criminal gangs conspired with corrupt Tanzanian officials to traffic huge amounts of ivory, some of which was loaded in diplomatic bags on Xi's plane during a presidential visit in March 2013. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)


An environmental group says people traveling with China’s President loaded an airplane with illegal ivory during a state visit to Tanzania last year. The Environmental Investigation Agency, EIA, reported the finding.

The illegal ivory trade has harmed elephant populations in Tanzania and other African countries. The purpose of the unlawful trade is to meet a growing demand for ivory in Asia.

The EIA report says a group traveling with Chinese President Xi Jinping bought a large amount of ivory in Tanzania last year. The report says the amount was so big that prices for the elephant tusks increased by 100 percent. It says the price rose to $700 per kilogram.

The EIA reported that the tusks were flown to China on the president’s airplane. In a video released by the group, a Tanzanian ivory dealer discusses the Chinese agreement with an investigator who was working in secret to collect information.

The trader gets the Chinese president’s name wrong. He says, “Mr. Ping…”

The investigator corrects him. “Jinping..” The trader then mentions an illegal agreement.

Trader: (The president), when he was here – many kilos (kilograms) go out. Many kilos go out. Half of his plane goes to that business.”

The trader says he knows this is true because the Chinese buy ivory from dealers in Tanzania. The EIA report says the nation is the biggest source of illegal ivory seized around the world.

Ivory trafficking – the illegal trade – follows established trade routes. It usually begins in the country’s own reserves, or wildlife areas, that are supposed to be protected.

Tanzania’s Selous Reserve is among parks where poachers carry out attacks. These hunters kill the animals inside the parks. The ivory then is collected in villages and taken to the port of Dar es Salaam. The material is shipped to Asia. Finally, in China, people cut and shape the ivory and sell it as a decoration.

EIA wildlife campaigner Shruti Suresh says all these activities would be impossible if Tanzanian officials did not cooperate.

“Because of the scale (size) of this, and seeing that there are several tons of ivory going through government posts, past government officials, it is clear that this corruption permeates through the highest levels of government.”

The EIA says Tanzania has lost two-thirds of its elephants since 2006, mostly by poaching. In that time, the number of elephants in the Selous Reserve has fallen from 70,000 to just 13,000 in 2013.

Shruti Suresh describes the shrinking population as “dire in the extreme”.

“It’s quite shocking. And if we don’t stop this rate of decline (decrease), we really don’t know if Tanzania will have elephants in the near future.”

China has promised to take steps against ivory trafficking. Officials in one city, Guangzhou, crushed more than six tons of ivory early this year to show their desire to correct the situation. African countries struck hard by poaching sent representatives to the event.

I’m Jerri Watson.

*This report was based on a story from VOA correspondent Gabe Joselow. Jeri Watson wrote it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in this Story

tusk - n. a long enlarged tooth (as of an elephant or walrus) that projects when the mouth is closed and serves to get food or as a weapon

mentions, from mention - v. to speak briefly of; to name

route – n. a way to get from one place to another place

decoration – n. something that is added to something else to make it more attractive

permeates, from permeate - v. to pass or spread through

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