According to National Geographic, the ivory trade is alive and well. In the Philippines, which boasts the third largest Catholic population, ivory versions of their most precious Catholic religious icon, the Santo Niño de Cebu, are touted by believers in the hope that they will receive higher blessings than those carrying wood or fibreglass versions. In 2009 5.4 tons of illegal ivory was seized. CITES believes that much of the ivory heading for the Philippines eventually ends up in China.
The ivory trail even links back to the Vatican, which is yet to sign the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) agreement banning the international trade of endangered species. In fact, as National Geographic reporter Bryan Christy describes, a saleswoman at Savelli Gallery on St. Peter’s Square even offered a free ivory blessing by a Vatican priest if he made a purchase.
Thailand has also been caught in the scandal, with famous ivory carvers in Surin and Phayuha well renowned for their skills. Ivory amulets protect wearers from bad luck and black magic.
Poaching levels in countries like Cameroon and Chad are at their worst in a decade.
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