Now is the time for an EU export ban on raw ivory

The legal trade in ivory often hides an illegal trade of ivory.Elephants and rhinos continue to die at an alarming rate.

One elephant every 15 minutes, on average, is killed for its ivory.

We know there are fewer, possibly by a large margin, than 500 000 elephants remaining in the wild.

Simple maths tells us we’re running out of time.

We’ve had a resolution in the European Parliament, we’ve had an EU Commission experts conference last April. There have been ivory crushes in Belgium, France, the UK and elsewhere. We’ve also applauded as France, the UK, Sweden and Germany all banned the export of raw ivory from their countries.

But these admirable initiatives are simply not enough.

As the Belgian Minister for the Environment, Marie Christine Marghem, pointed out recently, there’s not much point in a domestic export ban from one EU country if the traders can simply move to another EU country and ship the ivory to China.

She said this in response to reports of a French auction house advising its clients to circumvent the export ban in France by shipping it first to Brussels and then on to China.

This flagrant act definitively highlights the inadequacies of the existing EU rules.

As it stands, ivory that entered the EU prior to 1947 can be exported. Even if Belgium were to ban the re-export of raw ivory as Minister Marghem points out, the ivory could be exported from over a dozen other EU Member States.

· In 2011 Belgium issued just eight certificates for raw ivory.

· The following year that increased to 18.

· 2013 saw a huge jump to 97 and...

· 2014 was higher again with 128 permits issued.

The trend is clear and the problem is getting worse.

This legal trade has an even more nefarious aspect to it. Legal ivory often hides an illegal trade that is disguised or misrepresented as antique ivory.

The only solution is an EU ban on the export of raw ivory.

Closing the loophole would make it easier for customs officials to stop all ivory trade going through the EU and reduce the pressure on elephants still living in the wild.

An EU ban should be just one part of a broader EU Action Plan to tackle Wildlife Crime. We need better intelligence sharing between Member States, harsher penalties from the judiciary, more training and collaboration with rangers and police in range states to protect animals still in the wild, and comprehensive campaigns in the countries hoovering up the world’s wildlife for trinkets no one needs and medical treatments without actual benefits.

With an Action Plan we need a Trust Fund to ensure that the best initiatives and intentions are transformed into action on the ground to save our planet’s biodiversity.

Wildlife trafficking is a massive global security issue. It ranks as one of the world’s most lucrative criminal activities, valued at US $19-billion annually by the UN. Illegal wildlife trade ranks fourth globally in terms of value, behind the trafficking in drugs, counterfeiting and human trafficking.

Many of the world’s poorest countries have been doing their utmost to protect lions, tigers, elephants, rhinos and other iconic species.

It is about time that the EU chipped in and did its own part.


Learn more about IFAW efforts to combat illegal wildlife crime on our campaign page.

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Pauline Verheij, Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Country Representative, Germany
Country Representative, Germany
Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
Director, EU Office
Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy