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Hundreds of nations agree to domestic trade ban for ivory

The agreement is voluntary, but conservationists are hopeful.

A Zimbabwe National Parks official inspects the stock during a tour of the country’s ivory stockpile at the Zimbabwe National Parks Headquarters. CREDIT: AP/TSVANGIRAYI MUKWAZHI
A Zimbabwe National Parks official inspects the stock during a tour of the country’s ivory stockpile at the Zimbabwe National Parks Headquarters. CREDIT: AP/TSVANGIRAYI MUKWAZHI

After days of tense negotiations, nations and environmental groups called for an end to domestic ivory trading as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) congress wrapped up in Hawaii on Saturday.

Nearly all of the 217 nation states that belong to the IUCN, as well as 1,000 environmental groups, backed a statement calling for countries to end ivory trading within their borders as “a matter of urgency,” according to the Guardian.

The move is an attempt by conservationists to staunch the killing of elephants for their tusks. A recent census of African elephant populations found that between 2007 and 2014, African elephant populations declined by 30 percent. Past estimates wager that African elephants once numbered between 400,000 and 630,000 — today, just 352,271 African elephants remain. A second study released at the end of August found that, because of their slow reproduction, it will take forest elephants 100 years to recover from poaching losses.

African elephant. CREDIT: AP/KAREL PRINSLOO
African elephant. CREDIT: AP/KAREL PRINSLOO

The IUCN agreement is voluntary, but conservationists hope that the move will inspire governments to shut down ivory trade within their borders. Many of the key nations involved in Saturday’s decision will meet later this month in Johannesburg at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITIES), where conservationists hope a similar call for a ban on domestic ivory trade will be adopted.

“Closing domestic markets will also prevent the selling of illegal ivory under the cover of a legal trade.”

“The shutting down of domestic ivory markets will send a clear signal to traffickers and organized criminal syndicates that ivory is worthless and will no longer support their criminal activities causing security problems in local communities and wiping out wildlife,” Cristian Samper, president and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society, said in a statement. “Critically, closing domestic markets will also prevent the selling of illegal ivory under the cover of a legal trade, making it much easier for law enforcement agencies to do their jobs and much harder for the syndicates to profit from their nefarious trade.”

tons of ivory at the the National Wildlife Property Repository at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. CREDIT: AP/ED ANDRIESKI
tons of ivory at the the National Wildlife Property Repository at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. CREDIT: AP/ED ANDRIESKI

International ivory trade has been banned since 1989, but many countries still allow for the domestic trade of ivory, including antiques. Last July, President Obama initiated a sweeping ban on domestic ivory trade throughout the United States, which represents the world’s second-largest ivory market, behind Asia. The new rules ban the sale of ivory across state lines — with exceptions for antique pieces like furniture and musical instruments — and further tightens commercial restrictions at ports.

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Beyond poaching for ivory, elephants face increasing pressure from both land use changes and climate change. Development can cut off crucial migration paths for elephants, cutting them off from sources of food and bringing them into closer contact with human populations.

Elephants are also sensitive to temperature changes, placing them particularly at risk from climate change — a World Wildlife Fund assessment found that climate change could make elephants more susceptible to disease, as well as make it more challenging for the animals to find fresh water. A 2013 study published in Ecology also found that deviation from their ideal heat range (around 75 degrees Farenheit) also has a negative impact on the health of Asian elephants, making them more susceptible to heat stroke and disease.