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Ivory trade experts are still avoiding the key issue

Acknowledging the crisis is not enough to stem elephant slaughter


LONDON: The new BBC documentary Ivory Wars: Out of Africa tonight detailed the ongoing tragedy of rampant elephant poaching and the international ivory trade, but something was absent from its broad overview.

Leading experts featured in the Panorama special failed to confront the most pressing issue – that China’s ‘legal’ ivory trade is driving the slaughter and shutting it down must be made a priority.

Last month, the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) released the new briefing Blood Ivory: Exposing the myth of a regulated market and a campaign film, calling for legal ivory sales to be stopped and for China to be stripped of its Approved Buyer status.

EIA Executive Director Mary Rice said: “Panorama’s findings clearly show how China’s unregulated consumption is devastating elephant populations in Africa, and how illegal ivory is even available in State-run Friendship stores.

“China’s voracious demand and its abject failure to regulate the ‘legal’ trade constitute a total failure of the 2008 decision to grant Approved Buyer status to China, allowing it to purchase stockpiled ivory at auctions sanctioned by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

“The UK, European Union and other governments supported China’s bid to become an Approved Buyer and should shoulder the responsibility for that misguided decision by opposing any further sales and pushing for China’s status to be revoked.”

Recent EIA undercover investigations in China show its ivory trade is out of control, with up to 90 per cent of ivory available coming from illegal sources and evidence that the Chinese Government itself has directly profiteered on the ivory it bought at auction in 2008.

EIA has repeatedly warned of the risk of granting China Approved Buyer status, including in its 2007 report Made in China: “China does not meet the requirements of CITES … and the Standing Committee should not approve China’s request to be an approved trading partner”.

However, the following year, a report by TRAFFIC, which manages the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) on behalf of CITES, and China Arts & Crafts Association claimed “… the legal ivory processing and sales enterprises are not involved in any illegal ivory trade.” In the same year, TRAFFIC endorsed China’s application to be an Approved Buyer for legal ivory sales.

In Ivory Wars, TRAFFIC/ETIS spokesman Tom Milliken conceded: “Did allowance of ivory to go into China exacerbate a situation? One could probably argue now, that with hindsight, that indeed it did. It created perhaps an image in the minds of many potential Chinese consumers that it was okay to buy ivory.”

Rice added: “Time is not on the elephant’s side. The failure of the legal trade is evident and it should be immediately shut down.”


Interviews are available on request; please contact EIA Executive Director Mary Rice at [email protected] or telephone 020 7354 7960.



1. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) investigates and campaigns against environmental crime and abuses.

2. China approved for controlled ivory imports from Africa, TRAFFIC press release, July 2008

3. EIA advised the BBC in the formative stage of Ivory Wars, providing background, contacts and on-site leads.

4. Those interviewed for Ivory Wars included spokespeople for Amboseli Trust for Elephants, CITES, ETIS, European Sustainable Use Specialist Group, International Fund for Animal Welfare, INTERPOL, Royal Malaysian Customs, Save The Elephants, The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, TRAFFIC, University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology and West Gate Community Conservancy, as well as Esmond Martin.


Environmental Investigation Agency
62-63 Upper Street
London N1 0NY
Tel: +44 207 354 7960
Fax: +44 207 354 7961