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At the peak of the ivory trade, pre-20th century, during the colonization of Africa, around 800 to 1,000 tonnes of ivory was sent to Europe alone.
World wars and the subsequent economic depressions caused a lull in this luxury commodity, but increased prosperity in the early 1970s saw a resurgence.
EIA confirmed with their investigations that not only had these syndicates made enormous wealth, but they also possessed huge quantities of CITES permits with which they continued to smuggle new ivory, which if stopped by customs, they produced the paper permit.
CITES had created a system which increased the value of ivory on the international market, rewarded international smugglers and gave them the ability to control the trade and continue smuggling new ivory.
About 80% of this was estimated to come from illegally killed elephants.
The international deliberations over the measures required to prevent the serious decline in elephant numbers almost always ignored the loss of human life in Africa, the fueling of corruption, the "currency" of ivory in buying arms, and the breakdown of law and order in areas where illegal ivory trade flourished.
China, yet to become the economic force of today, consumed small amounts of ivory to keep its skilled carvers in business.
Despite these public revelations by the EIA, and followed by media exposures and appeals from African countries and a range of well-respected organisations around the world, WWF only came out in support of a ban in mid-1989, indicating the importance of the "lethal use" principle of wildlife to WWF and CITES; even then, the group attempted to water down decisions at the October 1989 meeting of CITES.
Ivory was formerly used to make piano keys and other decorative items because of the white color it presents when processed but the piano industry abandoned ivory as a key covering material in the 1980s.
Elephant ivory has been exported from Africa and Asia for centuries with records going back to the 14th century BCE.
Japan, relieved from its exchange restrictions imposed after World War II, started to buy up raw (unworked) ivory.
This started to put pressure on the forest elephants of Africa and Asia, both of which were used to supply the hard ivory preferred by the Japanese for the production of hankos in mass production.