Countries call for end to domestic ivory trade as elephants disappear


Maria Gallucci, Mashable

Date Published


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A new resolution to ban all domestic ivory sales has been passed by a global group of conservationists and governments.

The measure, adopted Saturday at a major summit in Hawaii, aims to curb the illegal killing of elephants, whose numbers are rapidly dwindling as poachers slaughter them for their tusks and humans encroach on elephants’ natural habitats.

“Elephants have had enough of the ivory trade, and so has the world,” Cristian Samper, president and CEO of Wildlife Conservation Society, said in a statement after the vote at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress.

A coalition of nations — including the United States and African countries Gabon, Kenya and Malawi — had urged the IUCN last week to adopt the motion to stop internal ivory trading.

Samper said the resolution to close the world’s domestic ivory markets is “vital” given that “the news about Africa’s elephants is as bad as bad news gets.”

A new aerial survey found that African savanna elephants have declined at a rate of 27,000 elephants per year — about 8 percent of the population — with a total of 144,000 savanna elephants lost in less than a decade, according to the Great Elephant Census.

The research, led by the Wildlife Conservation Society and funded by Microsoft founder Paul Allen, also found that several elephant populations, particularly in West and Central Africa, have declined to dangerously low levels and risk local extinction.

The IUCN does not regulate the ivory trade, domestically or globally. Saturday’s resolution instead is designed to encourage nations to adopt domestic bans at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Johannesburg later this month.

Governments already banned the international ivory trade in a 1989 treaty. Yet poachers have only ramped up their attacks on elephants in recent decades.

The United Nations Environment Program estimated that around 100,000 elephants were killed between 2010 and 2012, out of a total population of less than 500,000 elephants.

Illegal trade in wildlife and natural resources — including ivory, rhino horns, fish, apes and pangolins — is valued at up to $213 billion annually, according to the U.N.

Still, efforts to ban domestic ivory sales have garnered support from the world’s two biggest economies: the United States and China.

In June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a near-total ban on domestic commercial trade of African elephant ivory. In September of 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to shut down its domestic ivory market and enact “nearly complete bans” on ivory imports and exports.

According to Samper, “The shutting down of domestic ivory markets will send a clear signal to traffickers and organized criminal syndicates that ivory is worthless and will no longer support their criminal activities causing security problems in local communities and wiping out wildlife,” he said in the statement.