Ivory dealer convicted for huge illegal ivory hoard

Friday, June 13, 2008
Leading UK wildlife and conservation groups today praised the police for the prosecution of a man convicted of trading in large amounts of illegal ivory - but warn that the case highlights British demand for ivory items.

Mr. Michael Elliott, 57 of Gravesend, Kent was found guilty today at Southwark Crown Court of trade in ivory carvings. He was given a two year suspended sentence and ordered to pay £1480 costs.

In one of the largest seizures of ivory made to date by the Met's Wildlife Crime Unit, the confiscated items included 24 whole ivory tusks and dozens of carved items made from elephant, hippo and sperm whale ivory, which are protected from uncontrolled international trade by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The conviction followed an extensive investigation involving officers from the Metropolitan Police Wildlife Crime Unit and the Specialist and Economic Crime Directorate.

Elephant tusks have long been carved into ornaments and jewellery, but it is less well known that there is also a trade in whale bone, sometimes called 'scrimshaw', hippo teeth and even walrus tusks, which are all carved into decorative ivory items. Whilst some ivory is taken from animals that have died naturally, demand for ivory often leads to elephants and even hippos being poached in the wild.  Despite an international ban on trade in elephant ivory since 1990, corruption and a lack of law enforcement in domestic ivory markets in Africa and Asia fuel an illegal international ivory trade, which has continued to increase since 1995.

Robbie Marsland, Director of IFAW UK, said: "This huge seizure shows that trade in ivory is still thriving in the UK.  Many collectors may not be aware that the demand for ivory ornaments, jewellery and trinkets carved from ivory fuels the slaughter of thousands of endangered wild animals."

He continued: "This conviction acts as a reminder that London still has a huge black market in items made from protected species of animals and highlights the essential work carried out by the Met’s Wildlife Crime Unit ensuring that wildlife criminals are prosecuted for maintaining this gruesome trade."

Over 30,000 items have been seized by the Wildlife Crime Unit since 1997, including items made from rhinos, bears, elephants, tigers and other big cats, reptiles and musk deer.  As well as prosecuting wildlife criminals and running crime prevention campaigns, the unit serves as a model for enforcement officials in China, India and other countries with problematic trade in wildlife. Investigations into wildlife crime often uncover other criminal activities, including drugs and organised crime.

In November 2006, Operation Charm - a partnership between the Wildlife Crime Unit, the Greater London Authority and NGOs* - was re-launched to crack down on illegal wildlife trade.  A number of seizures and prosecutions have already been made by the Wildlife Crime Unit under the initiative.

"We praise the successful prosecution of a man trying to break a law put in place to protect endangered species across the globe, said Heather Sohl, wildlife trade officer at WWF-UK. "On the face of it the sentence does appear lenient. Strict penalties are available and should be used to discourage future criminality of this nature."

Heather added: "This case demonstrates the need for UK police forces to have officers dedicated to combating wildlife crime.  By working in partnership with them we will bring an end to this illegal trade before it brings an end to some of the world’s most important species.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

Elephant, hippo and sperm whale are all listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.  Hippo, sperm whale and African Elephant are listed as vulnerable and Asian elephants are listed as endangered.  For further information on the IUCN Red List, please visit: www.iucnredlist.org

African elephants were particularly hard hit in the 1980s when an estimated 100,000 individuals were being killed per year. It is now believed that just 470,000 to 690,000 African elephants survive today in the wild and only 25,600 to 33,000 Asian elephants remain. 

The status of the species now varies greatly across Africa. Some populations remain endangered due to poaching for meat and ivory, habitat loss, and conflict with humans, while others are secure..

CITES is an international agreement which has been signed by 173 countries.  It bans commercial international trade in the world's most endangered species and strictly controls trade in many others.

Operation Charm was launched by the Metropolitan Police in 1995. It is the only current police initiative against the illegal trade in endangered species in the UK and uses a combination of law enforcement and publicity in London.

In 2006, Operation Charm became a partnership between the Metropolitan Police Wildlife Crime Unit, the Greater London Authority, *the Active Conservation Awareness Programme (ACAP), the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), WWF-UK and the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF).  For further information visit www.operationcharm.org

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