That has led to an increase in the illegal slaughter of African elephants, with some wildlife groups estimating that over 90 percent of all the ivory on sale in China is illegally sourced. Much is traded secretly, not through shops.

Ivory carving and sale is legal in China but is meant to be tightly controlled. China only permits 37 companies to work with ivory and in 2013 only 145 outlets were allowed to sell ivory. Collection cards are needed for identification of legally sold ivory.

However, a report, "China Faces a Conservation Challenge" by Kenya-based Save The Elephants and the British-based Aspinall Foundation said 26.5 percent of the thousands of elephant ivory items on sale in Beijing and Shanghai were illegal.

"Many small shops that do not have licences to sell elephant ivory items are doing so," said the report's authors, who visited 303 outlets selling elephant and mammoth ivory in Shanghai and Beijing.They found that the value of ivory has tripled since 2010, pointing to surging demand among Chinese buyers.

In Beijing the price of a 1-5 kg tusk rose to about USD 2,100 in 2014 from about USD 750 in 2010.The Chinese government has in the past said it is committed to helping end poaching in Africa, where about 22,000 elephants were illegally killed in 2012, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).CITES banned trade in elephant ivory in 1989 but later allowed a limited amount to be sold.

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