Eighteen international environmental and conservation organisations are calling on European Union governments to halt all exports of raw ivory when the EU’s Committee on Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora meets on April 10 in Brussels.
Ivory trade has expanded in the EU, making it the world’s largest exporter of so-called pre-Convention or ‘old’ ivory. An analysis in 2014 of records in the database maintained by CITES – the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora – confirms that re-exports of pre-Convention ivory, particularly raw tusks, from the EU have increased substantially since 2007, with mainland China and Hong Kong the main destinations of this old ivory. The increase coincides with a decision in 2007 by CITES to allow China to purchase 62 tonnes of ivory, stimulating market demand. Conservationists demand that loopholes in European law allowing exports of old ivory are closed permanently by Ministerial agreement. Then they cannot be exploited to launder fresh ivory poached in Africa to feed the insatiable demand in Asia, especially China.
“We have repeatedly warned that weak European laws on ivory trading are a clear and present danger to Africa’s elephants. Action in Brussels is long overdue,” says Daniela Freyer of Pro Wildlife.
Earlier this month, 44 NGOs wrote to European Union Ministers asking them to suspend all exports of raw ivory. Charlotte Nithart of Robin des Bois, who co-ordinated the NGO letter, said: “We are pleased that six EU Countries – Austria, France, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom – are already refusing to issue ivory export permits and have urged the other 22 member states to follow suit.”
Sally Case, of the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, added: “The EU must agree unanimously on April 10 to halt ivory exports and end its unenviable position at the top of the league table for exports of pre-Convention or old ivory.”
A common EU position to halt exports is imperative. Without one, ivory can be taken from one EU country where export is not allowed to another EU country where export permits are still issued. Belgium is of particular concern since it allows exports of ivory to Asia. This undermines the recent decisions by Austria, France, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden and the UK not to issue export permits.
“To protect these magnificent animals there must be a complete prohibition of the trade in ivory since it is indisputable that any legal trade facilitates illegal trade.” said DJ Schubert, of the Animal Welfare Institute.
“Attempts to legalise ivory trade since 1989 have been a disaster. We need to learn from history and permanently shut down all ivory trade – international and domestic,” added Vera Weber, of the Fondation Franz Weber.
“We are calling on all EU countries that have not yet done so to adopt a common position on April 10 by halting all commercial exports of raw ivory,” says Mary Rice, of the Environmental Investigation Agency. “The recent measures announced by China to restrict imports of worked ivory fail to address this key issue. In addition, the EU needs to adopt a ban on the export, import and domestic sale of both raw and worked ivory, clamp down on Internet trade, and follow the examples of other countries by destroying stocks. We will only be able to end the elephant poaching crisis when the trade fuelling it is banned permanently and demand curbed.”
Daniela Freyer, Pro Wildlife, 49 89 81299 507
Charlotte Nithart, Robin des Bois, 33 1 48 04 09 36
Africa Network for Animal Welfare
Amboseli Trust for Elephants
Animal Welfare Institute
The David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation
David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
Eco Activists for Governance and Law Enforcement
Elephant Action League
Environmental Investigation Agency
Fondation Franz Weber
Hong Kong for Elephants
Last Great Ape Organization
Projet d’Appui à l’Application de la Loi Faunique
Rettet die Elefanten Afrikas e.V.
Robin des Bois
The international trade in ivory was banned by CITES in 1989. However, since then CITES Parties have permitted two ‘one-off’ sales from legal government stockpiles in Southern African countries in 1999 and 2008. While the first sale went to Japan only, in 2008 China was permitted by CITES to import 62 tonnes of ivory, claiming that this would deter illegal trade and protect elephants in the wild.
Recent data on ivory trade and elephant poaching show that the opposite has happened: African elephants are now slaughtered for ivory on a scale not seen since the 1980s. Populations in several regions are collapsing. Scientists report that local and even global extinction of African elephants is now possible as a consequence of human demand for ivory. China is the world’s biggest consumer of legal as well as illegal ivory.
An August 2014, TRAFFIC report revealed that the number of elephant tusks re-exported from the EU for commercial purposes jumped markedly in 2008, and that from 2009 onwards there has been an annual increase in the number of tusks re-exported for commercial purposes from the EU.
Two conferences were held in Botswana last month on wildlife crime and the crisis facing elephants. At least 100,000 African elephants have been killed illegally for their tusks within the past three years alone. The total population of the continent’s elephants is estimated to be well below 500,000.
Conservationists commend the increasing number of countries that have destroyed their ivory stocks to signify their commitment to stopping the slaughter. Forest elephants in West and Central Africa face severe poaching threats. Gabon has lost 75 per cent of its elephants in the past decade, but has reacted with tough new protection in its wildlife reserves. In 2012, it became the first African country in recent years to burn its entire stockpile of ivory, followed by Chad in 2014.
Savannah elephants in East Africa are also under heavy pressure, partly fuelled by terrorism. Kenya’s elephant population, for example, has declined from 167,000 in 1979 to less than 38,000 today. Kenya recently torched 15 tonnes of its ivory stocks and its President intends to destroy the remainder, thought to be well over 100 tonnes, by the end of 2015. Ethiopia’s population has fallen from 15,000 in the 1970s to less than 2,000 today. In March 2015, Ethiopia publicly destroyed its six tonnes of stockpiled ivory, bringing to 12 the number of countries around the world that have destroyed stockpiles since 2011.
Malawi has recently announced it will destroy its ivory stocks, making it the first southern African country to do so since Zambia destroyed its ivory in 1992. In addition, two traditional ivory consumer countries, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates, have also announced recently that they will destroy their ivory stockpiles.