Proposal to legalize ivory trade shot down at wildlife summit
Alok Gupta

A large number of countries have rejected demands by a group of African nations to legalize the international ivory trade.

Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe on Thursday jointly submitted a proposal for the one-time sale of government-owned ivory stockpiles, followed by a six-year moratorium at the 18th triennial Conference of Parties (COP18) of the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Geneva.

Zambia sought permission to change the protection level of its elephant population, to pave the way for the sale of ivory and elephant parts. 

Around 101 countries voted against the proposal, only 23 voted in favor and 18 abstained themselves from the process. These proposals come at a time when the African elephant population is declining at an alarming rate due to massive poaching and habitat loss.  

In just nine years between 2006 and 2015, there was a loss of around 111,000 elephants, African Elephant Status Report (AESR) said. The plummeting numbers of the iconic animal in the wild prompted the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to categorize the African elephant as a species threatened with extinction.

“Commercial trade in ivory is the biggest threat to the survival of African elephants. So, it was incredibly important to see so many African nations show their unwavering opposition to this destructive trade at today’s vote,” Iris Ho, a senior wildlife specialist with Humane Society International (HSI) said.

The CITES--a global wildlife trade regulator--has already banned the international trade of ivory but left the decision to close domestic trade of the product on national governments. The thriving local ivory market responsible for triggering the product’s demand leads to the poaching of around 20,000 elephants every year, according to recent estimates.

In order to control the massive levels of poaching, the Chinese Mainland, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Macao Special Administrative Region and Taiwan shut down their domestic ivory markets. The UK, the U.S. and Singapore also banned domestic ivory trade.

But large ivory markets are still operational in the European Union (EU) and Japan, fueling demand for the product. “They must shut down ivory markets in the EU with all but extremely limited exemptions, in line with actions taken by other nations like China, the US and the UK,” Matt Collis, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare said.

Under pressure from the international community, the EU and Australia have assured CITES of their plans to close their respective ivory markets soon. “[We are] formally announcing our intention to close domestic trade of elephant ivory and rhino horns,” said Sussan Ley, environment minister of Australia.