Proposed ivory sales a major threat to elephant conservation
AS nations prepare to meet to consider allowing one-off sales of stockpiled ivory, the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has exposed a booming illegal trade in poaching and smuggling in the very countries seeking the lucrative relaxation.
Both Tanzania and Zambia have submitted proposals to a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting, taking place in Qatar from March 13-25, to downlist their elephant populations from Appendix I to the lesser Appendix II.
Both countries also want the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP15) to allow one-off sales of their stockpiled ivory, totaling 112 tonnes.
CITES last permitted a one-off ivory sale in 2008, when Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe were allowed to sell a total of 108 tonnes to China and Japan.
In the following year, there was a global surge in the level of seizures of illegal ivory – with Tanzania deeply implicated in the bloody trade as the source of almost half of the 24 tonnes captured.
Yet the argument made in favour of one-off sales is that they are supposed to satisfy demand, deflating the price of ivory and so reducing the threat to elephant populations from poachers.
“Every new sale or downlisting is sending out yet another conflicting and confusing message to the effect that it is acceptable to deal in ivory,” said EIA executive director Mary Rice.
“It may cause some people to think that it’s alright, when in fact it only contributes to a dramatic worsening of the situation.”
EIA investigators recently visited both Tanzania and Zambia and returned with harrowing first-hand evidence which clearly documented a flourishing trade in illegal ivory in both countries, a grim situation exacerbated by poor enforcement and facilitated by official corruption.
In Tanzania lies the Selous Game Reserve, the largest ‘protected’ area in Africa and a World Heritage Site, but evidence shows it to be the scene of rampant poaching.
In early February 2010, investigators posing as buyers found ivory on offer in the Mwenge market in Dar es Salaam, gathered data on recent elephant poaching incidents in northern Selous and identified hotspots for ivory trading in southern Selous.
In a remote village on the edge of the Selous, one illegal ivory trader even dug up his cache of tusks and offered them for sale – investigators were forced to flee when the poachers became increasingly aggressive, and were pursued on motorbikes fitted with silencers, the same vehicles often used to discreetly ferry ivory around the area.
In Zambia, the EIA found that despite a ban on domestic sales, ivory is easily obtainable in large quantities. The country has a thriving illegal domestic market and is also at the centre of the international ivory trade, hosting some of the world’s most sophisticated traders and networks – in some instances even using Red Cross and military vehicles to transport illegal ivory.
“Considering the huge surge in seizures of illegal ivory last year, it would be ridiculous to allow new sales to go forward until there has been a proper, in-depth and exhaustive study of the impact of the one-off sale in 2008,” added Rice.
The full extent of the illegal ivory trade in these countries is documented in the new EIA report Open Season:The Burgeoning Illegal Ivory Trade in Tanzania and Zambia.
URGENT CALL TO ACTION – FROM EIA
1. PARTIES TO CITES
* Oppose proposals from Tanzania and Zambia to downlist their elephant populations from Appendix I to Appendix II
* Reject requests from Tanzania and Zambia for one-off sales of their respective ivory stockpiles
* Oppose all further sales until the impact of previous sales has been fully analysed and assessed
2. GOVERNMENTS OF THE UNITED REPUBLIC OF TANZANIA AND ZAMBIA
Take decisive and effective action against the illegal ivory trade:
* Enforce domestic legislation
* Conduct detailed investigations into the role of individuals, government officials and syndicate leaders involved in large ivory shipments
* Prosecute and convict perpetrators appropriately
* Publicise case results to create a tangible deterrent to others and increase transparency
Interviews are available on request: please contact Mary Rice, EIA Executive Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 0207 354 7960 / 07810 640532.
1. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) investigates and campaigns against environmental crime and abuses.
2. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species appendices are lists of animals and plants afforded different levels or types of protection from over-exploitation.
3. Appendix I lists those species deemed most endangered. They are threatened with extinction and CITES prohibits international trade in specimens of these species except when the purpose of the import is not commercial, such as for scientific research, when trade may be allowed if authorised by both an import permit and an export permit (or re-export certificate).
4. Appendix II lists species not necessarily threatened with extinction at present but which may become so unless trade is closely controlled. International trade in specimens of species listed in Appendix II may be authorised by the granting of an export permit or re-export certificate. No import permit is necessary under CITES. Permits or certificates should only be granted if the relevant authorities are satisfied that certain conditions are met, above all that trade will not be detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild.
5. Appendix III lists species included at the request of a Party that already regulates trade in the species and needs the cooperation of other countries to prevent unsustainable or illegal exploitation. International trade in specimens of Appendix III species is allowed only on presentation of the appropriate permits or certificates.
6. Species may be added to or removed from Appendix I and Appendix II, or moved between them, only by the Conference of the Parties, either at its regular meetings or by postal procedures.
7. The current rules relating to international trade in ivory, including what is commonly described as a ‘nine-year moratorium’ on trade in elephant ivory from populations already in Appendix II, were decided by consensus at CoP14, which took place in The Hague in 2007.
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