Dubai survey serves as a message about illegal ivory trade


Vesela Todorova, The National

Date Published

DUBAI // A survey of more than 900 travellers at Dubai International Airport found the majority agreed with a complete ban on all elephant ivory products.

Almost 93 per cent of the 942 people surveyed from more than 20 countries said there were good alternatives to souvenirs made from ivory. The poll was aimed at reminding travellers that it was illegal to carry ivory across international borders as part of an awareness campaign by Dubai Police, the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority and the Ministry of Environment and Water, partnering with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

“People want governments to punish wildlife smugglers,” said Dr Akram Darwich, the IFAW programme manager Middle East and North Africa. “These answers invite us to work for more protection and conservation of elephants and other wildlife.”

Travellers from as far as Mexico, India, South Africa, the United States and Belgium participated in the survey, which hoped to gauge the opinions of people from the Far East, said Mr Darwich.

“From our work, before we understood that, the main nationalities who use or trade in ivory are the Chinese and some other nationalities from Asia such as Thailand.”

However, approaching Asian travellers was not easy, said Ahmed AbouZahra, the IFAW’s campaigns and communications officer.

“So many of them were afraid to get involved, even to give their opinion.” He noted people were also mistaken about the impact of the ivory trade, with some believing the animals were alive at the time their tusks were taken.

Conservationists say use of ivory encourages poaching, with at least 35,000 elephants a year being killed to supply the trade.

Under UAE law, people caught smuggling endangered animals or animal parts face jail sentences of up to six months and/or fines of up to Dh50,000.

Protection measures aimed at reducing poaching had significant success in the 1990s, although elephants are once again being targeted due to the high demand for their tusks.

According to a UN report, Elephants in the Dust: The African Elephant Crisis, the trend has intensified since 2007. In 2011, about 17,000 elephant deaths were recorded at sites monitored by scientists in Africa with the number for the entire continent believed to be as high as 25,000.

In many counties, especially those in Central and Western Africa, the number of animals targeted by poachers exceeds the growth rates of the population.