Over 1.2 million people call on Commissioner Vella to close the ivory trade across the EU

1.2 million people call on Commissioner Vella to close ivory trade across EU
Wednesday, 28 March, 2018
Brussels, Belgium

Today, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the global campaigning movement Avaaz hand over more than 1.2 million signatures to Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, calling on the European Commission to impose a trade ban of elephant ivory.

More than 20,000 African elephants are killed each year in Africa and population numbers have collapsed to an all-time low. (1) With a total of almost 200.000 signatures gathered by IFAW and over 1 million signatures collected by Avaaz, both organizations joined forces to convey the strong message from their EU and non-EU supporters to the European Commission calling for urgent action to save elephants from extinction. NGOs Rettet den Regenwald and Pro Wildlife also wrote to Commissioner Vella, drawing attention to their petition on closing ivory markets signed by 376.693 and 12.649 citizens respectively. 

The EU is currently reviewing its policies on ivory, and as part of their advocacy campaigns, IFAW and Avaaz are pushing for the voices of citizens in Europe and around the world calling for an end to ivory trade in the EU to be taken into account. Polls show that 65% of EU citizens want the trade to end. (2) Law enforcement officials say organized crime has increasingly moved into the illegal ivory market. In fact, ivory traffickers are often the same people involved in drug smuggling and illegal arms dealing. “Poaching for ivory poses the most significant direct threat to the survival of elephants in the wild. The trade in ivory is a global issue. Worldwide the EU is one of the largest exporters of ivory. Antique carved ivory is exported in huge quantities from EU countries to Asia. This trade in ivory statues and bangles fuels demand in Asia, which, in return, leads to more elephants being killed in the wild,” says Staci McLennan, EU Office Director at IFAW.

There is gathering momentum for bans on ivory trade to help combat poaching and stop illegal wildlife trade. Back in 2016, the USA enacted regulations to halt most imports and exports of ivory products, and France introduced a ban with certain exemptions. At the close of 2017, China shut down its ivory markets. Hong Kong SAR of China has voted to do the same, and the UK is moving towards a comprehensive ban with exemptions ahead of the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference in London later this year.

Last week, 32 African countries and three presidents joined the call for action by signing the Avaaz petition to close the EU’s ivory trade. “Europe must choose between ivory or elephants,” says Bert Wander, Avaaz Campaign Director. “All over the world the shutters are coming down on ivory markets and people everywhere, backed by dozens of nations, are calling for a ban on Europe’s massive ivory trade to help save elephants. The question is will Commissioner Vella listen to them, or just make more excuses?”

Earlier in March, 21 technology, e-commerce and social media companies in collaboration with WWF, IFAW and TRAFFIC joined the first ever Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online. As members of this coalition, technology companies pledge to work together to collectively reduce wildlife trafficking across platforms by 80% by 2020. In addition, IFAW will soon launch a new research report on the scale and nature of the trade in protected live animals and their body parts via online marketplaces and social media platforms in France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Russia. “Antique carved ivory is currently openly sold online and offline in European countries. This makes it relatively easy for criminals to launder illegal ivory from poached elephants, as fresh ivory is indistinguishable from antique ivory without detailed and expensive DNA analysis. EU leadership is critical to the survival of elephants. There is no other way for the EU than to follow China and the UK and end EU’s role in the poaching epidemic,” says Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director Wildlife Crime at IFAW.

Meanwhile Avaaz will publish the results of an investigation into illegal ivory being traded openly in Europe. Initial results from the study, which carbon dates ivory bought legally all over Europe, shows modern ivory is being illegally passed off as antique. Full results are expected in June.

A strong stance from the EU on this issue is essential if the largest living land mammal is to have reasonable prospects for survival. As the most important donor for biodiversity conservation, the EU has a key role in supporting African countries to tackle organized crime, corruption and consumer demand. IFAW, Avaaz and over 1.2 million citizens hope to hear from the European Commission this summer regarding the mid-term review of the EU Wildlife Trafficking Action Plan, and on firm next steps to address ivory trade in the European Union.



  1. Michael J. Chase et al. (2016) Continent-wide survey reveals massive decline in African savannah elephants. PeerJ 4:e2354, available at https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.2354
  2. International Fund for Animal Welfare (2017) EU ivory trade kills elephants. https://www.ifaw.org/european-union/resource-centre/eu-ivory-trade-kills-elephants

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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