Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Apes and Ivory for Sale

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Born Free's Senior Wildlife Consultalt, Ian Redmond OBE, recently visited  Lubumbashi, in the southern DR Congo (DRC), with  independent film-maker Steve Taylor, to investigate the illegal wildlife trade for two UNEP¹ reports, one on ivory and one on the trade in baby apes, for the Bangkok CITES² conference.

While he was there they set up an interview (in French) with a market trader who deals in ivory carvings, chopsticks and jewelry. The trader (who remains anonymous) agreed to be filmed as he explained how the ivory trade works in DRC. To find out more about Steve’s Congo Basin ivory film, visit

We will post a video of the interview soon, but in the meantime here is an informal translation of Ian's interview with the trader:

In the hotel room interview, he lays out 13 thick bangles, six elasticated bracelets and two necklaces of ivory beads.

IR:  Where are these made.

P.  There are people who come with ivory to Congo, these are made, above all we sell these.

IR. Where do the elephants live?

P.  Above all in Congo, in Africa.

IR. Where do the elephants whose tusks made these live, Congo, Zambia Tanzania?

P. These elephants lived in Zambia.

IR. Who buys these (indicating goods).

P. There are Chinese who come to Congo.  In Zambia - there are people who come to Zambia, er, the Chinese who come to Zambia don't buy ivory.  They come here to Congo for ivory, then take it to China to sell there.

IR. How much ivory do you sell in a year.

P. Here in Congo we sell ivory for $150 per kilo, but I don’t know how much the sell it for in their place.  Worked ivory sells for $350 per kilo;  per piece we sell for $200 or $150 depending on the quality; this (holding up thick bangle) I'd sell for $80.   A Chinese would buy that for $80, but I don't know how much they'd sell it for.

IR. In a week, do you see one buyer or many?  Do you sell one kilo or many?

P. This (bangle) we sell by the piece; in a week or 10 days we might sell 200 pieces.  They buy a lot, the Chinese.

IR.  Are you selling one or two pieces each to lots of people, or lots of pieces to one or two people?

P. There are lots of Chinese people who buy lots of ivory.

IR. I'd like to know how many kilo or tonnes of ivory pass through the market here each year.

P.  That is very difficult to say.

IR. Can you estimate?

P.  It's very difficult to estimate.  In a year maybe 2000 pieces [Note, seems too low a figure if he sells 200 in 10 days, but perhaps he meant 2,000,000 - check translation] IR. They carry this to China?

P. Yes, they take to sell in China.

IR. Are they here for other work, such as mining.

P. No, they are just here to buy ivory.  And also copper.

IR. Do the authorities stop you?

P. The authorities here in Katanga are big thieves.

Steve intervenes and asks me to steer clear of delicate questions, short exchange to be edited out.

IR. How many carvers are around here?

P.  There are 15 artists who carve these, Comune Boish (sp?), Comune Kamarone (sp?), Commune Ikenya (sp?).

IR. How much does the carver get per piece?

P.  Dealer from Zambia sells ivory to me at $150 per kilo.  One kilo makes two pieces - I give it to the artist who takes two days to make these.

IR.  I'm trying to understand how many people are involved from killing the elephant to this.

P. There are the hunters who kill the elephants, coming from Zimbabwe - Chingola - then bringing the tusks to us for $120-150 per kilo;  we give to the artists to make these which we sell for $80 to the Chinese.

IR.  If the ivory trade was stopped, do you have other things to sell?

P. If they stopped the ivory trade, here we Congolese have many materials to sell - cobalt, copper, silver, all kinds of things.

IR. You are aware, I think, that the elephants are almost finished.

P. Exactly.  Elephants are 'defendu' (protected) all over the world; we are 'defendre' (prevented/banned?) to sell ivory.

IR. So, if the ivory trade was stopped, would you have other work? Would many people lose their livelihoods?

P. Exactly.  In Congo here, we have lots of materials, lots and lots.  If they stop ivory, we are in agreement.  You cannot kill an elephant.

IR.  I'm surprised to hear you say that!  Thank you - what a good way to end the interview, in agreement!

P. There was a time when there were lots of elephants - IR. Long ago - P. - for the moment, to stop selling ivory, that is right.

Interview ends with handshake!

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