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The long-extinct woolly mammoth could gain protected status in an unprecedented attempt to save the African elephant from the global ivory trade.
If approved, the protection of the mammoth under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) could prove vital in saving its modern relatives.
The proposal by Israel would close a loophole that enables the trafficking of illegal elephant ivory under the guise of legal mammoth ivory, which is almost identical in appearance.
“They are often intermingled in shipment and retail displays, and are fashioned in a similar style. To the untrained eye it’s very difficult to distinguish between them,” said Iris Ho, senior specialist in wildlife programmes and policy at Humane Society International (HSI).
“There is currently no international regulatory regime to track and monitor the commercial trade in mammoth ivory.”
An Appendix II level of protection for the prehistoric mammoth, which has been extinct for 10,000 years, would subject the mammoth ivory trade to strict regulation. It would be the first time an extinct species has been listed as protected under Cites.
The international trade in elephant ivory has been banned since 1990, but demand for it still leads to the deaths of 30,000 African elephants every year.
Kitty Block, the president of HSI, said: “With ivory traffickers exploiting the long-extinct mammoth so they can further exploit imperilled elephants, nations must unite to end the poaching epidemic and ensure all ivory markets are closed. The time to act is now, before we lose them forever.”
A number of jurisdictions have already prohibited the sale of mammoth ivory products altogether, including New York and Hawaii. India has also banned the import of mammoth ivory.
The proposal needs the support of two-thirds of the parties at the Cites conference, which will take place in Sri Lanka in May.
It is one of 57 announced ahead of the meeting that seek to either increase or decrease protections for 152 wild animal species affected by international commercial trade.
Among them are nine African countries pushing to reclassify the elephants of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe from Appendix II to I, the maximum level of protection for species threatened with extinction because of trade.
However, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe want to weaken existing restrictions on their ability to export ivory to consumer countries. Zambia is also seeking to downgrade its elephants from Appendix I to II to allow international commercial trade in raw ivory.
Other species on the agenda include giraffes, whose wild populations have declined by up to 40% in the past 30 years, mako sharks threatened by the Asian shark fin trade and a proposal by Swaziland to allow trade in rhino horn.