Ivory Trade Ban (Cracking Down on Illegal Ivory)

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Every year in Africa between 30,000-40,000 elephants are poached for their ivory. In 1900 there were 10 million, in 1979 there were 3 million, in 1989 there were 800,000 and now there are only 400,000 elephants left. It doesn’t taken a maths genius to figure out that in 10-13 years there will be no more elephants.


This Saturday, 24th September 2016, marks the start of the 17th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), being held in South Africa. One of the topics up for discussion is whether the international trade in legal ivory should be banned.

In the lead up to this significant event in the future of elephants, the UK and USA have tightened up their laws regarding the trade of ivory and Kenya has made a powerful statement regarding its view on the ivory trade.

UK Ivory Ban:

The UK already had a ban on the sale of modern-day-sourced worked ivory (ivory sourced post-1947) but as of the 21st September 2016, the UK announced that it now requires documentary proof that the ivory post dates 1947. Without such proof of antiquity all ivory offered for sale will be destroyed or confiscated. The trade in unworked ivory of any age is already banned in the UK. (www.gov.uk/uk-ban-on-modern-day-ivory-sales)

USA Ivory Ban:

In the United States, as of 6th July 2016, the only commercial export of ivory that is allowed is worked ivory that is certified antique (over 100 years old). They already had a full ban on any commercial imports of any ivory.

With regards to non-commercial imports and exports – the ivory must be legally acquired and removed from the wild prior to 26th February 1976 (and be part of a household move or inheritance, part of a musical instrument or part of a travelling exhibition). In addition, hunters are allowed to import two sport hunted trophies per year so long as they have a threatened species permit. The export of law enforcement/bona fide scientific specimens and worked elephant ivory that is certified antique is also allowed.

Across state lines only worked ivory that is certified antique or items that a contain a small amount of ivory can be commercially traded. Within a particular state commercially traded ivory must be certified as having been imported prior to 18th January 1990 or it must have a CITES pre-convention certificate. Non-commercial movement of legally acquired ivory is allowed throughout the USA. (www.fws.gov/US-ivory-ban).

Kenya Ivory Burn:

On the 30th April 2016, the tusks of 6,000 elephants were burned in the Kenya Ivory Burn.

These tusks were burned to destroy a potential source of ivory entering the market and to make a public demonstration of Kenya’s view on the ivory trade.

“The reason is to essentially make a statement to the world that number one, we are committed to conservation and to underline the fact that we don’t believe that there ought to be any value attributed to ivory and rhino horn, except on elephants and rhinos,” Kitili Mbathi – Director General of Kenya Wildlife Service.

How big an impact will restrictions on the ivory trade in the USA and UK have on the world ivory trade? Isn’t the problem in Asia?

The USA is the second largest market for ivory in the world after China!

31% of the ivory legally exported from Europe to Asia comes from UK ivory. The trade in legal ivory fuels the market for illegal ivory.

How does legal ivory fuel the market for illegal ivory?

It was previously thought that flooding the market with so called legal ivory from ivory stockpiles would drive down prices and therefore the demand for the illegal ivory. In 2008 China and Japan were allowed a one time purchase of stock piled African ivory to flood the market but it failed to drive down prices or demand – poaching increased and the price of ivory tripled.

Hong Kong has long been considered the centre of the world ivory trade. In 1990 Hong Kong banned the import and export of ivory but still allowed the trade in pre-ban ivory. One of the 377 registered ivory traders in Hong Kong revealed, in a film by undercover wildlife investigators in 2014, “Illegal ivory can be bought everywhere…I can get 10 tonnes of ivory from Africa at any time.” Despite Hong Kong banning the trade of post-1990 obtained ivory, in 2014 Hong Kong customs seized 2.2 tonnes of post-1990 obtained ivory. The legal ivory trade provides a cover for the illegal ivory trade. (www.bbc/news/Hong-Kong-illegal-ivory-trade)

In 2015 the UK Environmental Investigation Agency said that 30 out of 37 Japanese ivory traders approached offered to engage in illegal activities, including buying and processing unregistered tusks of unknown origin, and registering tusks using false information. (www.eia-global/fraudulent-tusk-registration-fuels-ivory-trade-in-japan)

“we simply cannot be the generation that lets these incredible species such as elephant and rhino disappear on our watch” – Tusk CEO, Charlie Mayhew

Along with thousands of others across the world, I am joining the Global March For Elephants and Rhinos on the 24th September to put pressure on the CITES delegates to vote for the strictest protections of elephants and rhinos and other endangered species, in order to end wildlife trafficking.



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