Ivory trade galore: Elephants not yet seeing the benefits of trade suspension

Monday, October 22, 2007
Cape Town, South Africa
Gunfire battle with poachers, ivory confiscations, and smuggler prosecution. All is a week’s work in a world of booming elephant ivory trade.
On October 11th, 93.9 kg (207 lbs) of elephant ivory was confiscated in Zambia. Again, on October 18th, 22 tusks were seized in Zimbabwe. On October 12th, a man in British Columbia was prosecuted for illegally importing 30,000 pieces of African elephant ivory. It would be difficult to tell from recent happenings that just a few months ago a decision was made to implement a “resting period” with no new trade proposals permitted for a period of nine years (after stockpile sales go through).
 
Michael Wamithi, Program Manager for IFAW’s (International Fund for Animal Welfare – www.ifaw.org) global elephants campaign, warns, “While the recent CITES [Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species] outcome, the landmark approval of nearly a decade-long suspension of trade in elephant ivory, is a step in the right direction, don’t make the mistake of thinking that this means peace for the elephants.”
 
At the 14th meeting of CITES Conference of the Parties in the Hague, June 3-15, a collaborative decision was made to implement this suspension, or “resting period” of nine years for the international trade in ivory. But, the compromise reached between conservation-minded countries, and pro-consumptive southern African nations, was the allowance of huge stockpile sales.
 
“Although the general feeling in June was victory for elephants, the fact is that elephants remain in a precarious state. With stockpile sales looming, and the consequential market flood, consumer demand will only be encouraged, and poachers will do all they can to launder in their illegal stocks,” cautions Wamithi.
 
Wamithi goes on to stress the importance of cracking down on enforcement efforts, as well as extending the protected range area for elephants.
 
Over 23 tonnes (25.5 tons) of elephant ivory was seized between August 2005 and August 2006, which is the highest annual seizure rate witnessed since the 1989 CITES ban went into effect. Enforcement authorities estimate that nearly 90 per cent of contraband slips through controls undetected.

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Peter Pueschel, Director, International Environmental Agreements
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Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
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