Banking on extinction: Investing in the illegal animal trade

It's almost impossible to discern the difference between "yellow plastic" and simulated ivory, which makes the job of customs officials that much more difficult.

It’s almost impossible to discern the difference between “yellow plastic” and simulated ivory, which makes the job of customs officials that much more difficult.

Beijing, China (TFC) – It has long been believed that most of the demand for ivory poached from African elephants was caused by those seeking the tusks for medicinal uses. The skyrocketing cost of ivory attracted a new buyer: investors.

J. A. Mills, author of Blood of the Tiger, talked about the practice of investing in illegal animal products recently in an interview.

“Banking on extinction is the newest, most deadly threat to the survival of wild tigers and other endangered species.”

The investors purchase the illegal material in hopes of the animal going extinct. A rhino tusk can currently fetch $100,000 dollars. Once the animal is extinct, the tusk will be priceless. Endangered animals of all sorts are subject to poaching and speculation by this macabre form of investor. The cost of elephant ivory has shot up about 300% in less than a decade. To supply the demand, poachers have increased the number of elephants they kill. They have wiped out 100,000 elephants in just three years, and in 2011 poachers killed close to ten percent of Africa’s remaining elephants.

The underground market has left exclusive Chinese auction halls and moved to booming online sales. The wildlife protection group TRAFFIC has monitored this online business as it migrated from normal retail sites to social media networks which are harder to track. There are more than 64 known code words for ivory. Some of the code words are as innocent as “white plastic” or “yellow plastic” depending on the shade of the tusk.

The illegal wildlife trade is worth about $19 billion per year.  Just like any status symbol, the middle class wants to show off their affluence with the illegal products as well, buying everything from ivory rings to wine steeped in the bones of tigers.

1 comment for “Banking on extinction: Investing in the illegal animal trade

  1. March 30, 2015 at 1:36 pm

    Greed! That’s the only reason these majestic animals have been driven to the point of extinction. Sad, but true. Their 100,000 dollar item would become priceless if elephants & tigers became extinct.
    The only hope these animals have is if wildlife groups, such as TRAFFIC, can combat the on-line sales of ivory and the men who are on the front line, catching poachers “in the act”.

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