Elephant Poaching Rampant on 10th Anniversary of Ivory Trade Ban

LONDON, UK, January 17, 2000 (ENS) - Today, the 10th anniversary of the international ban on trade in elephant ivory, has been chosen by the Environmental Investigation Agency to release by the Environmental Investigation Agency to release new figures showing the incidence of elephant poaching is once again skyrocketing.

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African elephant family (Photo courtesy Kingsway Christian College)
Reports from a number of African countries point towards an upsurge in elephant poaching. In Kenya's Tsavo National Park, 29 elephants were poached for their ivory in 1999, five times the average annual total during the previous six years.

Press reports from Zimbabwe claim that poachers killed at least 350 elephants in the country last year, with 31 killed in a single park in just two weeks.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), a non-profit environmental group based in London, England and Washington, DC, paved the way for the adoption of the international trade ban in 1990 with a two year undercover investigation exposing the illegal ivory trade. Now EIA fears substantial quantities of illicit ivory are on the move again.

In October 1989, governments that are Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) voted overwhelmingly to ban the ivory trade. While 76 countries supported the ban, only 11 opposed it, and it came into force on January 17, 1990.

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Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Director N. Rotich; Lusaka Agreement Task Force Director, Adan Dullo and KWS chairman, C. Njonjo unwrap tusks confiscated from smugglers. July 1999 (Photo courtesy KWS)
In the ten years leading up to the ban poachers decimated Africa's elephant herds, with the population falling from 1.3 million to 624,000.

Despite the success of the ban in allowing recovery of elephant populations, some southern African states have continually sought to reopen the ivory trade.

In 1997, CITES parties agreed to permit a one-off sale of ivory from Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana to Japan. In April 1999, Japanese ivory traders bought almost 60 tons of ivory from the three African states.

EIA chairman Allan Thornton, who has been tracking the illegal ivory trade since the late 1980s, said, "Lifting the ivory ban was the biggest conservation blunder of the 1990s. Reports of intensifying elephant poaching are increasing. The sale of ivory to Japan was supposed to be preceded by implementation of international safeguards in the form of a monitoring system to detect increased poaching. The system was not established and now elephants are paying the price."

Since the sale was allowed to proceed, despite the absence of agreed safeguards, seven of the largest ivory seizures have taken place since the ban was implemented January 17, 1990.

The parties to CITES meet in Nairobi in April, and the ivory issue will be high on the agenda. Kenya and India, both of which have reported increased poaching in the last two years, are calling for all elephant populations to be placed on CITES Appendix I, which would prohibit all international trade in elephants or their parts.

At the same time Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa want to sell their ivory.

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Set of matched elephant tusks sells for US$195 per pound from IvorySource.com (Photo courtesy IvorySource.com)
It is EIA's view that a legal ivory trade provides a cover for the black market, a view confirmed by the upsurge in both elephant poaching and illicit ivory seizures. On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the original ban EIA is calling for all elephant populations to be restored to CITES Appendix I.

Up to 94 percent of all the ivory sold before the international ban originated as poached ivory and was laundered into the legal trade due to extensive loopholes in the CITES ivory control system.

The United Kingdom is Chair of the CITES Standing Committee which took the decision to allow the sale of ivory to Japan before the international monitoring system was in place. The European Union nations abstained on the 1997 vote to allow resumed international ivory trade, allowing the measure to pass.