Stop the Ivory Trade
Illegal ivory seized in Cameroon
Why the ban?
In 1979 there were an estimated 1.3 million African elephants. A decade later, widespread poaching had reduced that figure by more than half. Just 600,000 African elephants remained.
Africa’s savannahs and forests were no longer sanctuaries for elephants; they had been turned into graveyards.
In 1989, a worldwide ban on ivory trade was approved by CITES. Levels of poaching fell dramatically, and black market prices of ivory slumped.
CITES had saved the African elephant. Or had it?
Poaching and trading
Since 1997, there have been sustained attempts by certain countries to weaken the ban. In 1999, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe were allowed an ‘experimental one-off sale’ of over 49,000kg of ivory to Japan. Then in 2002, a further one off-sale was approved, which finally took place in 2008 – and resulted in 105,000kg of ivory being shipped to China and Japan.
Today, levels of poaching and illegal trade are spiralling out of control once again. In many areas, rates of poaching are now the worst they have been since 1989. In 2009, over 20,000kg of ivory was seized by police and customs authorities worldwide and in 2011, just thirteen of the largest seizures amounted to over 23,000kg, breaking all records since the ivory ban.
In July 2012 CITES recognised that elephant poaching had reached 'unsustainable' levels, not only in small unprotected populations but also among larger populations traditionally regarded as safe. Between October 2012 and January 2013 over a 12 week period, 12 tonnes were seized in just 4 incidents.
In a climate where both the black market price for ivory and its demand are so high, elephants' lives are put at risk by the mere prospect of a sanctioned sale of ivory. If the poaching of elephants and ever growing trade in illegal ivory is to be seriously addressed, part of the solution to this complex problem must be a return to the full ban on the sale of ivory established in 1989.
Other measures which must be taken with urgency include:
- Address the involvement of international criminal syndicates by means of strong law enforcement at both national and international levels along the full extent of the supply - demand chain. The effectiveness of this measure should be judged not only by ivory seizures and arrests recorded but also by convictions with proportionate penalties and the disruption of trade networks.
- Close down domestic (national) markets in ivory, to accompany the international trade ban instituted by CITES.
- Educate consumers in order to stem the demand for ivory. A survey in China found that almost 70% of the public thought ivory did not come from dead elephants but that it fell out naturally, like teeth.
The alternative to taking the bull by the horns? Some countries continue to report localised extinctions of small vulnerable elephant populations, a number of others edge closer to losing all their remaining elephants and the larger 'safer' populations start or continue their own downward spiral.