Southern Africa’s Largest Ivory Market Closes


Mila Bozhkova, Eatglobe

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Tourists browsing Angola’s Benefica market, located in the capital city of Luanda, can easily spot thousands of pieces of carved ivory, from jewelry and totems to whole tusks. In fact, Benefica is the largest ivory market in the whole of southern Africa. However, this open trade with endangered animal parts is living its last carefree days, as the government of Angola just announced its plans to ban the sale of ivory and ivory artifacts, as well as tighten border and screening controls.

According to UN data, more than 20 000 out of the remaining 420 000-650 000 African elephants are killed every year for their tusks. However, 100 000 elephants were poached on the continent during 2010-12,  leaving a significantly smaller wild population than expected.

The country’s decisive move is motivated by its commitment to the UN-hosted Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Earlier this year, the convention urged Angola to implement its National Ivory Action Plan (NIAP), which was presented in 2015 and aims to eradicate elephant poaching and ivory smuggling. At the upcoming Conference of Parties, taking place in Johannesburg in September of this year, Angola will have to submit a progress report on its NIAP implementation.

The ban, which will put Angola on the frontline of the battle against illegal ivory trade, also comes amid the country’s preparations for hosting World Environment Day (WED) on 5 June. WED is the UN’s principal vehicle for mobilizing global action on environmental issues and this year’s event is centered around combating the illegal trade of CITES-protected species.

Angola, the home of a poorly researched and monitored wild elephant population, is a particularly valuable stronghold against ivory smuggling, since it currently holds one of the biggest domestic ivory markets and is both a sourcing and transit state. The exact size of Angola’s elephant population is unknown to this day, yet unpublished recent research is anticipated to confirm stark declines during Angola’s decade-long civil war, which began right after Angola gained its independence from Portugal in 1975 and ended in 2002.

Besides banning the sale of ivory and ivory artifacts countrywide, Angola’s Commission Against Environmental Crimes is also deploying a wildlife crime unit at Luanda’s international airport. Additionally, it aims to undertake an inventory of its ivory stockpile and destroy it before World Environment Day. The authorities have already started engaging with local traders at the Benfica market informing them about legal changes, yet the real challenge to come is actually preventing the local ivory trade from going underground.