How criminal gangs in one Chinese town are dominating the illegal ivory trade

An investigation shared with ITV News has revealed how criminal gangs from one small town in China are dominating the illegal ivory trade.

Shuidong is the size of Brighton but it is the world's largest centre for ivory smuggling and the destination for 80% of all poached ivory from Africa arriving in China.

Undercover filming by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) found traffickers boasting about bribing officials to help them transport tonnes of poached tusks without being caught.

One trafficker filmed by the EIA said: "We’re able to move anything through Mozambique. Everyone there has been bought up."

Mary Rice, who led the EIA investigation, said the group operating in Shuidong had been "operating with impunity" for more than a decade.

She said that while China should be applauded for its action on ivory trade - the country intends to shut down its ivory trade by the end of the year - more needs to be done to expose networks and prosecute and convict individuals involved.

Ms Rice, executive director of the EIA, added: "Consumer countries need to ramp up their demand reduction messaging and make it clear to the public that it's illegal to buy ivory.

"Eventually, once all of those different measures come into play, then we stand a much better chance of eradicating ivory markets."

The price of ivory in China has dropped massively since the country revealed plans to end the trade.

In early 2014, tusks cost on average £1,700 per kilogram, but by February 2017 this had dropped to less than £600.

Experts have claimed Chinese demand for tusks - at one point accounting for 70% of global demand - has driven African elephants towards extinction.

It is estimated that up to 30,000 elephants are killed by poachers each year to meet demand for ivory, with the number of African Savannah elephants dropping by approximately 30% from 2007 to 2014.