First in Europe: France destroys 3 tonnes of illegal ivory

IFAW/E. Bouvet
Thursday, February 6, 2014
Reims, France

This morning, the French government destroyed 3 tonnes of illegal ivory seized by customs over 20 years, following through with the promise made by President Holland during the Elysee Summit last December. The ivory was destroyed near the Eiffel Tower in the presence of the Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development & Energy, Mr. Philippe Martin, and Mr. Nicolas Hulot, Special Envoy of the President of the Republic for the Protection of the Planet.

This stock of ivory was worth an estimated one million euros, and included 698 elephant tusks and 15,357 carved pieces seized by customs, mainly at the Roissy airport. In 2012 alone, the French Customs Administration conducted 57 investigations which resulted in seizures of 346 pieces of raw or carved ivory mainly from the Congo, Nigeria, and Guinea.

“This strong and highly symbolic operation reflects the determination of the French government to combat ivory trafficking and crimes against wildlife at large. The French President is sending a clear and strong message to traffickers and consumers alike not only about the environmental stakes, but also the security risks,” explains Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director of IFAW France and Francophone Africa.

France is the first European Union member country to destroy part of its stocks, following in the footsteps of the United States which recently destroyed part of its stocks in November 2013 and China—the biggest market for ivory—which destroyed 6.2 tonnes on January 6th.

According to announcements made by the French President, a criminal circular about trafficking protected species was sent to public prosecutors in December to inform them of the issue and the legal tools at their disposal to better prosecute this type of criminal activity. Moreover, fines for trafficking protected species will be increased substantially. Finally, ivory seized in the future will be investigated and destroyed according to a stricter protocol currently being drafted.

“IFAW strongly supports governments that decide to destroy their stocks of ivory. Each year, 30,000 to 50,000 elephants are poached for their ivory. Some populations are on the brink of extinction, particularly in Central Africa. This is unacceptable. Destroying stocks makes ivory unusable, thereby reducing the volume in circulation: the killing of elephants will not stop until the demand for their ivory ceases,” added Ms. Sissler-Bienvenu.

Seizures of illegal ivory in the world continue to increase: 24.3 tonnes in 2011, 30 tonnes in 2012, and 41.5 tonnes in 2013. Togolese customs officials recently seized 1.7 tonnes of ivory on January 23rd, then 2.1 tonnes less than one week later on January 29th. The containers were bound for Vietnam.

During the CoP15 (Doha, Qatar – March 2010) and CoP16 (Bangkok, Thailand – March 2013) of the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), parties were encouraged to perform DNA tests for all large ivory seizures.

“Large seizures of ivory often are tied to organized crime rings responsible for elephant poaching and ivory trafficking,” says Céline Sissler-Bienvenu. “CITES believes that scientific investigations should be conducted on confiscated ivory to support international law enforcement efforts and identify the routes used by traffickers, a tactic that IFAW also supports.” 

Most of the illegal ivory is sent to Asia—China in particular—where this highly coveted “white gold” has seen its value as an investment vehicle rise considerably. The limited availability of legal ivory bought by China when certain southern African countries sold part of their stocks in 2008 only fueled demand, encouraging the illegal ivory trade and elephant poaching in order to satisfy market demand.

As part of an international initiative aimed at strengthening the capacity to fight this trafficking, IFAW trains law enforcement officials on the prevention of illicit trafficking of wildlife species in several countries in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Oceania, and the Caribbean. IFAW recently signed a memorandum of understanding with INTERPOL, the first ever signed with an NGO by the INTERPOL program on environmental crime. IFAW and INTERPOL have collaborated on many projects since 2005, including last year’s largest ever international operation to fight against ivory trafficking.

Note to editors:

Infographic Criminal Nature, about the threat to global security posed by the illicit trade of wildlife, is available as an attachment. Click here for the the full report.

About IFAW (the International Fund for Animal Welfare)

Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Experts

Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Cynthia Moss, IFAW Elephant Expert
IFAW Elephant Expert
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
James Isiche, Regional Director, East Africa
Regional Director, East Africa
Jason Bell, Program Director, Elephants Regional Director, South Africa
Program Director, Elephants, Regional Director, South Africa
Peter Pueschel, Director, International Environmental Agreements
Director, International Environmental Agreements
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Regional Director, South Asia