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African nations urged to end all trade in elephant ivory


European and American conservation leaders today called on governments worldwide to support requests from African nations and end all trade in elephant ivory to safeguard the future of elephants.  Ivory trade is a major topic on the agenda at the 69th meeting of the Standing Committee of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) in Geneva, where more than 600 country delegates and observers have gathered this week.

The organizations are supporting a proposal submitted by Burkina Faso, Congo, Kenya, and Niger on behalf of the 29 member countries of the African Elephant Coalition which highlights the European Union and Japan as playing an active role in the ivory trade. This is the first meeting of the Standing Committee since the 17th Conference of the Parties to CITES in September 2016 where Parties agreed a ground-breaking recommendation that all domestic ivory markets that are “contributing to poaching or illegal trade” should be closed “as a matter of urgency” [Resolution Conf. 10.10 (Rev. CoP17) on Trade in Elephant Specimens”].


Domestic ivory markets provide a cover for illegal trade, enabling the laundering of poached ivory and ivory allegedly imported before the international trade ban came into effect in 1990 (so-called “old” ivory). They therefore play a significant role in perpetuating the global trade.


“Legal ivory markets in Asia and Europe fuel demand and provide ample opportunities for laundering poached ivory. There is evidence of ivory trafficking in these markets which inevitably contributes to illegal trade and poaching and they must be closed,” says Daniela Freyer of Pro Wildlife.


More than 20.000 elephants are slaughtered in Africa every year for their ivory.


“The CITES recommendation to close domestic ivory markets was a breakthrough, but it will be meaningless if major players are allowed to ignore it,” says Dr Rosalind Reeve, Senior Adviser to the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation and Fondation Franz Weber.


Pressure to ban ivory builds up as EU and UK launch separate consultation documents.


The EU has been the largest global exporter of legal ivory into international markets in recent years, with a dramatic rise in raw and worked ivory re-exports from the EU in 2014 and 2015.  EU Member States reported exports of 1,258 tusks, and more than 20,000 other ivory items in those two years alone.


The largest customer for EU ivory in the past was China, which alongside other Asian destinations has been driving the elephant poaching crisis. The EU is also an increasingly important transit route for illegal ivory, as shown by record large-scale seizures in 2016, which are an indicator for organized crime.


While increasing criticism of the EU’s ivory trade led it to suspend exports of raw ivory in July, within the EU trade in all sorts of ivory remains legal – and export of worked ivory products continues as well.


The European Commission is under pressure to drastically tighten up on the EU ivory trade and recently launched a public consultation.  It calls on citizens, organisations and other stakeholders to participate in an online survey to gather information and views on ivory trade in the EU and the actions that the EU should take against ivory trafficking.  The deadline for submitting responses is 8 December.


“The EU now needs to respond to requests from the elephant range states in Africa and ban the ivory trade once and for all.  Nothing less will do to save elephants,” says Vera Weber, President of Fondation Franz Weber.


The UK government announced its proposal to ban ivory trade on 6 October, although it includes some limited exemptions.  A public consultation there is also currently underway and will conclude on 29 December.


“The UK and France were the largest global consumers of ivory in the colonial period. Public pressure has forced them to take major steps towards banning the ivory trade, and this can set the right example for the whole of Europe,” said Karen Botha, Chief Executive of David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation.


Japan’s ivory trade is booming


China has announced it will shut down its ivory trade by the end of 2017, which, if properly enforced, would essentially close the world’s largest market for poached ivory.  Japan, however, continues to have a significant, very active domestic ivory market and little progress has been made towards closure.


Japan argues that its domestic market does not contain illegal ivory and that the CITES recommendation on closure of domestic markets does not apply to it.  However, investigations clearly show there are illegal activities, and TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, has expressed its concerns over the laxity of Japan’s system of registration of ivory businesses and over the lack of regulation for products other than whole tusks.


“It is baffling that the Japanese authorities continue to believe that their domestic ivory markets are not connected to the illegal trade when evidence suggests otherwise.  The closure of Japan’s domestic ivory market is essential to ensure that its ivory does not leak to neighboring China, thus undermining Chinese efforts to enforce its domestic ivory ban. CITES must not allow this to continue,” said Iris Ho of Humane Society International


Reports from various organisations document that Japan’s legislation continues to be filled with loopholes and that it is responsible for leaking substantial quantities of ivory to other markets such as China.  Most recently, on 22 November, the Japanese Ministry of Environment stated that there were more than 100 cases in which customs officials in China seized ivory exported from Japan.


In view of these on-going concerns about Japan’s domestic market, the AEC proposal also asks the CITES Standing Committee to request that Japan develops a National Ivory Action Plan – a practical tool that outlines the urgent measures a country commits to deliver, including legislative, enforcement, and public awareness actions, with specified time frames and milestones for implementation.


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  • All populations of African elephants were listed on CITES Appendix I in 1989, effectively banning international ivory trade.But the protection was weakened in 1997 and 2000 when populations in four countries (Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe) were down-listed to Appendix II (a less endangered status) to allow two sales of ivory stockpiles to Japan and China in 1999 and 2008.


  • Fondation Franz Weber (FFW), based in Switzerland, has been campaigning for the survival of the African elephant and the complete ban of the trade in ivory for 40 years. FFW has had observer status at CITES since 1989 and has been a partner of the African Elephant Coalition since its creation in 2008.


  • David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF), based in the UK, is an adaptable and flexible organization responding promptly to conservation threats by supporting trusted, reputable individuals and organizations operating in the field. Lean on administration but generous on funding, DSWF supports a range of innovative and vital projects throughout Africa and Asia.


  • Pro Wildlife (PW), based in Germany, is committed to protecting wildlife and works to ensure the survival of species in their habitat, as well as the protection of individual animals. This includes advocacy, strengthening national and international regulations and ensuring their implementation.


  • Humane Society International and its partners together constitute one of the world’s largest animal protection organizations. For more than 25 years, HSI has been working for the protection of all animals using science, advocacy, education, and hands on programs.


  • The African Elephant Coalitionwas established in 2008 in Bamako, Mali. Its 29 member countries from are united by a common goal: “a viable and healthy elephant population free of threats from international ivory trade.”  They include: Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Togo and Uganda.


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About the author

Juergen T Steinmetz

Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1977).
He founded eTurboNews in 1999 as the first online newsletter for the global travel tourism industry.