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Chinese officials went on illegal ivory buying sprees during official visits to East Africa

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Chinese diplomatic and military staff went on buying sprees for illegal ivory while on official visits to East Africa, sending prices soaring, an environmental activist group said on Thursday (Nov 6).

Tens of thousands of elephants are estimated to be slaughtered in Africa each year to feed rising Asian demand for ivory products, mostly from China, the continent’s biggest trading partner.

When Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Tanzania, East Africa, in March last year, members of his government and business delegation bought so much ivory that local prices doubled to US$700 (S$905) per kg, the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) said in a report.

The report cited ivory traders in Tanzania's city of Dar-es-Salaam.

“When the guest come, the whole delegation, that’s then time when the business goes up,” the EIA quoted a vendor named Suleiman.

The traders alleged that the buyers took advantage of a lack of security checks for diplomatic visitors to smuggle their purchases back to China on Mr Xi’s plane.

Major buyers

Similar sales were made on a previous trip by China’s former President Hu Jintao, the report said, adding that Chinese embassy staff have been “major buyers", since at least 2006.

Last year, a Chinese navy visit to Tanzania by vessels returning from anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden “prompted a surge in business for Dar-es-Salaam-based ivory traders", it said.

A Chinese national named Yu Bo was arrested during the naval visit as he attempted to enter the city’s port in a lorry containing 81 elephant tusks – hidden under wooden carvings – which he planned to deliver to two Chinese naval officers, the EIA said.   

Yu was convicted and was jailed 20 years.

Tanzania had about 142,000 elephants when its president Jakaya Kikwete took office in 2005, the EIA said, adding that by next year the population is likely to have plummeted to about 55,000 as a result of poaching.

Source: AFP