The international community should ban all sales of ivory — including seized tusks and antique pieces that were created when trade was legal — for at least 10 years, argues a peer-reviewed essay published today in Conservation Biology. Without such measures, the epidemic corruption and high demand will ruin attempts to save African elephants, the author says.
The article comes from Elizabeth Bennett, who is vice president for species conservation at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), a non-profit organization based in New York. The WCS has previously voiced opposition to some legal ivory markets, but Bennett told Nature, “This is not a fundamentalist stand that we believe ivory should never be sold”.
She added, “Under current conditions and lack of controls, closing all markets for at least 10 years and after that until poaching no longer threatens wild populations is the only way to get the situation under control and give a break to the elephants.”
Conservationists have long complained that legal markets, which exist across the globe and can include sales of antique ivory pieces or new carvings of ivory sold legally from stockpiles, are used as a cover for ivory poached from Africa’s elephant herds. Concern has increased as poaching has recently surged in Africa. If a vendor is allowed to trade ivory, it can be difficult to determine whether a given product is actually from a legal source or has been poached and then integrated into the legal market.
But legal markets in other countries have also come under increased scrutiny lately, with New Jersey state banning all trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn this month.
Some countries, including the United States and China, periodically destroy stockpiles of seized ivory to avoid fuelling the growing demand. However some African states are known to be keen keeping limited legal sales, especially of the large amounts of illegal ivory they have seized. Supporters of such ‘one-off sales’ say they can reduce pressure on wild elephants by flooding the market.
In her article, Bennett says legal markets cannot be tolerated because of the level of corruption among government officials in charge of them. She points out that six out of the eight countries identified as the world’s leading offenders in global ivory trafficking are in the bottom half of league of corruption drawn up by Transparency International. And six of the 12 countries in Africa that have elephants populations are also in the half.
“If we are to conserve remaining wild populations, we must close all markets because, under current levels of corruption, they cannot be controlled in a way that does not provide opportunities for illegal ivory being laundered into legal markets,” she writes.