In response to devastating poaching levels in the 1980s, the international ban on elephant ivory trade went into effect after the 1989 CITES Appendix I listing of African elephants.
This landmark decision led to a dramatic reduction in elephant poaching across much of Africa as ivory prices plummeted.
A key factor in the CITES decision was the release of the EIA report A System of Extinction: The African Elephant Disaster, which scrutinised markets in Asia, investigated rampant poaching in African countries and exposed some of the international criminals who oversaw the bloody trade.
With elephants once again being hammered by poaching as ivory demand soars, and as EIA anticipates its 30th anniversary later this year, filmmaker and EIA volunteer Danielle Kummer dipped into our extensive film archive to revisit the key investigations which made such an impact:.
Unfortunately, the international trade ban was undermined when CITES approved two international sales of African ivory, first to Japan in 1999 and then to Japan and China in 2008 – with the result that 2011, 2012 and 2013 have been three of the worst years for elephant poaching on record.
The existing legal domestic markets in countries such as China and Japan continue to fuel the demand for ivory, and that’s why EIA continues to push for a total ban on all ivory trade, legal and illegal.
The clear evidence from numerous EIA investigations in Africa and China is that the CITES-sanctioned ivory sales have served only to stimulate ever-greater demand, confuse consumers, create a supply stream behind which poached ivory can be laundered, and allow one ‘approved buyer’ nation – China – to profiteer on the stockpiled ivory it purchased at auction by selling it on to its domestic carving industry at a vast mark-up.
We believe the pro-trade lobby needs to wake up and acknowledge that its proposed strategy of flooding and satiating markets with a legal ivory supply to drive criminals out of business is hopelessly inappropriate for a market that does not have a finite demand and which is ever more stimulated by new supplies.
Turning elephants into a mercantile commodity has been an unmitigated disaster for the species – but it’s not too late to correct the appalling errors which have reinvigorated demand and once again put elephants in the firing line.