Celebrating successful year of ivory bans to protect elephants

Elephant advocates around the world can celebrate many major victories in the battle to reduce ivory trade.The International Fund for Animal Welfare has long fought against the sole driver of the worldwide elephant poaching epidemic—the illegal ivory trade and the insatiable demand for ivory that fuels it.

We support efforts to train rangers to better protect elephants from poachers. We have established an innovative project that allows better flow of information among levels of law enforcement to be always one step ahead of poaching networks. We work tirelessly to help those tasked with stopping the rampant trafficking from source countries in Africa to Asia and the Americas.

But in the end, if we do not stop the demand for ivory worldwide, the work to quell the supply is in vain.

That is why in addition to changing consumer attitudes and stigmatizing so-called “white gold,” we pursue ivory bans—in all parts of the world, at all levels of government, working to remove exceptions and loopholes that cause market confusion and allow buyers to find illegal ivory from poached elephants alongside legal ivory.

In this past year alone, elephant advocates around the world can celebrate many major victories in the battle to reduce ivory trade. And IFAW was there for every one of them.

IFAW was proud to support the government of Kenya and Kenya Wildlife Service on the burning of 105 tonnes of elephant ivory in April. (In the days leading up to the historic burn, IFAW convened a summit with the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association and the Conservation Alliance of Kenya that rallied for stronger community involvement and passed around a ‘social contract’ to protect elephants.) The Kenya burn is one of nearly two dozen destruction events IFAW has supported over the past few years—from those in European countries to Sri Lanka to China’s SAR Hong Kong.

In China, the largest market for ivory products in the world, we have built awareness among the citizenry and good will within the government.  Thanks to our campaign “Say No to Ivory,” which has benefitted from millions of dollars’ worth of donated advertising space, China Outdoor Data Corporation (CODC), a company in Beijing focusing on analyzing market trends of the advertising industry and brand awareness, named IFAW a top 20 brand in China in 2015 with outdoor advertisements.

The key opinion leader outreach that we started in 2014 included a massive media blitz and recently featured Chinese Central Television anchor Yue Zhang leading a group of media executives and other Chinese wildlife ambassadors to Kenya. Inspired by a visit from my colleague, IFAW Asia regional director Grace Ge Gabriel, a coalition in Malawi met with the Chinese Ambassador to Malawi, and he signed on to the Stop Wildlife Crime campaign, pointing out that his government was committed to fight the illegal ivory trade.

After more than two years of economic reviews, stakeholder outreach, and support and guidance from NGOs such as IFAW, the Obama Administration finalized new legal protections for African elephants, culminating a series of loophole closures that should make it much harder for illegal ivory traffickers to turn a profit in the United States.

During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Washington, US and Chinese leaders made an historic commitment to protect elephants from ivory trade by enacting strong domestic trade controls. Once in effect, the commitments will represent near total ivory trade bans. 

But we cannot wait for federal bans to take effect.  In the meantime, IFAW has focused on the major state markets for ivory. After New York and New Jersey passed bans, California passed a measure that would restrict the trade of ivory and rhino horn trade in the state. In Washington State, voters passed a ballot initiative that protects a wide range of imperiled wildlife species from illegal trade by an overwhelming margin of 71 percent.

That’s when we turned our focus to right here—Hawaii—which was likely the biggest remaining market in the US ivory trade.

IFAW conducted a “snap-shot” investigation of an under-studied—and increasingly prevalent—section of the market: online commerce. The results were eye-opening: In just six days we found more than eighteen hundred advertisements for ivory and related wildlife products, totaling over 4,600 individual items, worth $1.22 million in Hawaii.

This research—and the local citizens and celebrities who came out in defense of elephants—influenced the Hawaii legislature to pass a bill to restrict sales of ivory and other wildlife products from imperiled species, making it the fifth state in the nation to prioritize biodiversity and animal welfare over jewelry and home décor.

We’ll take a few moments here to celebrate, then it’s back to work in a handful of other states where ivory bans are pending, either in the legislature or by ballot initiative. The more states across the US with bans the easier the enforcement, the less likely that traffickers can exploit the loopholes.

Thank you all for the support.

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Experts

Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Dr. Joseph Okori
Regional Director, Southern Africa and Program Director, Landscape Conservation
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime