A recent meeting of the Standing Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) sparked controversy with a report proposing the legalization of the ivory trade.
With the exception of two government sales held in 1999 and 2008, the international trade in ivory has been banned since 1989. Unfortunately, demand from Asian countries has led to an increase in poaching and continues to threaten vulnerable populations of elephants.
The report, “Decision-Making Mechanisms and Necessary Conditions for a Future Trade in African Elephant Ivory,” was written from the hypothetical perspective of what would happen if legalization was to occur, not whether or not it should occur, and proposes the creation of a governing body, the Central Ivory Selling Organisation (CISO), that would be modeled on the De Beers diamond cartel to oversee the sales of government stockpiles of ivory from seizures and from elephants who died of natural causes, were killed by trophy hunters or were culled.
Out of the five highest years for the largest seizures 2009, 2010 and 2011 were included, leaving the authors to conclude that current measures aren’t containing the problem of illegal trade in West, Central and East Africa. However, the report notes that preventing illegal hunting in the first place is the best proven way to protect elephants, but many range states are unable or unwilling to foot the bill.
Proponents argue that lifting the ban would create revenue that could be put towards elephant conservation and the lower prices of legal ivory would decrease the market rate, which would lower incentives for poaching, but opponents argue that it would only cause more problems.
“EIA remains deeply concerned that any more ‘legal’ sales – or discussion of ‘legal’ sales – of ivory will further stimulate the ivory market, supporting the perception that international trade has resumed and increasing demand for illegal ivory,” said Mary Rice, Executive Director of the Environmental Investigation Agency.
“In addition, the availability of ivory from both legal and illegal sources further challenges law enforcement agencies in their efforts to tackle the criminal networks behind the trade,” she said.
According to In Defense of Animals, which points out that nearly 38,000 elephants are slaughtered each year for their tusks, “Estimates presented at the meeting showed that over half of illegal ivory ends up in China where it is openly sold despite a certification system introduced to control illegal trade. And history shows that even one-off approved sales of “legal” stockpiles have had disastrous consequences for elephants, spurring surges in poaching that threaten to decimate Africa’s elephants.”
The proposal will be updated in October and the decision will be made at the next CITES meeting, which is scheduled for March 2013.
Please sign the petition asking CITES not to support the legalization of ivory sales.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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