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Countries at IUCN Congress vote to ban domestic ivory markets

  • At the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress in Hawaii last week, delegates passed a motion to ban all domestic ivory markets.
  • The ban is not legally binding, but urges governments with legal domestic markets for elephant ivory to close them down.
  • Countries like Namibia, Japan and South Africa opposed the motion arguing that domestic markets should be regulated but kept open.

The global conservation community has taken a step towards ending the slaughter of elephants for the illegal ivory trade.

At the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress in Hawaii last week, delegates passed a motion to ban all domestic ivory markets.

The ban is not legally binding, but the motion “urges the governments of countries in which there is a legal domestic market for elephant ivory, or any domestic commerce in elephant ivory, to make all necessary legislative and regulatory efforts to close their domestic markets for commercial trade in raw or worked elephant ivory.”

“The global conservation community is stepping up: No more domestic ivory sales. Elephants have had enough of the ivory trade and so has the world,” Cristian Samper, WCS President and CEO, said in a statement.

Tanzania is a hotspot of elephant poaching. Photo by Udayan Dasgupta.

The heavily debated IUCN ivory motion was passed on the last day of the congress. Countries like Namibia, Japan and South Africa opposed the motion arguing that domestic markets should be regulated but kept open. Canada also argued that the ivory ban would affect the trade of walrus and narwhal ivory, and impact the country’s indigenous people.

But delegates from countries like Uganda, Cameroon, Kenya, US and France spoke in favor of a ban on domestic ivory markets. Finally, majority of the 217 member countries of IUCN as well as conservation groups supported the ban.

“Today’s vote by IUCN members is the first time that a major international body has called on every country in the world to close its legal markets for elephant ivory,” Andrew Wetzler, deputy chief program officer at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “It’s truly a landmark moment, and a victory for elephants that will hopefully be repeated later this month at the next meeting of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Johannesburg.”

Countries like South Africa and Namibia opposed the ban, and called for open markets with regulations in place. Photo by Rhett Butler.

Poachers have decimated Africa’s elephant populations. A recent study found that between 2007 and 2014, savanna elephant numbers declined at a rate of 8 percent — or 27,000 elephants — per year. In less than a decade, about 30 percent, or 144,000 Africa’s savanna elephants, have been lost.

Africa’s forest elephants too are struggling to survive. A study published in 2013 found that forest elephant populations have declined by about 62 percent between 2002 and 2011. Dramatic declines of both savanna and forest elephants are mainly due to poaching, conservationists say.

“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,” Samper said. “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.”

In September last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama pledged their commitment to end commercial ivory sales in their countries by enacting “nearly complete bans on ivory import and export, including significant and timely restrictions on the import of ivory as hunting trophies, and to take significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory.”

“While China has not taken the final step needed to shut down its domestic ivory market, they have committed to close their market soon and inflict the largest blow to the ivory criminals,” Samper said.