Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

European Commission falls short on action needed to protect elephants

17 May 2017

Categories: Homepage News, Elephants Campaign News, Wildlife Trade News

On 16th May the European Commission published its “new measures to fight poaching and to end trade in raw ivory”.

The announced measures include significant financial support for the implementation of agreed actions against illegal wildlife trade to be undertaken by the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and, from 1st July 2017, a suspension of raw ivory exports, for which the EU has been a significant source in recent years.

However, the Commission has fallen short of introducing a comprehensive ban on all ivory trade. In spite of the recommendation from the European Council in June last year to “consider further measures to put a halt to commercial trade in ivory from elephants”, a move supported by many wildlife conservation and trade experts, including the Born Free Foundation, the Commission has only issued guidance to Member States on commercial trade and export of older ‘worked’ ivory items, with a promise to consult on whether further restrictions may be necessary ‘in the coming months’.

Responding to the Commission’s announcement, Born Free’s President, Will Travers OBE, said:
“While it’s good to see the Commission acting to shut down trade in raw ivory, the fact that legal commercial trade in older worked ivory items will continue unabated leaves a gaping hole in European rules that traffickers will be able to exploit with impunity. Furthermore, the guidance on what constitutes worked ivory and how its age should be verified is, at best, confusing and, at worst, will put the traffickers in the driving seat. Europe’s customs officials have a hard enough job, and this won’t make their job any easier.”

Elephants across Africa continue to be slaughtered in huge numbers by poachers for their tusks, to supply ivory into global illegal markets. An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 are being killed each year, and African elephant populations have fallen well below half a million, from 1.3 million in 1979. The existence of a legal ivory trade, known as a ‘parallel market’, even if it is restricted to older ‘antique’ items (currently defined as being pre-1947), fuels demand, provides a mechanism by which new ivory from slaughtered elephants can be laundered into trade, and compromises law enforcement efforts and other the conservation work of governments and their partners in elephant range countries.

The international illegal ivory trade, which runs into tens of thousands of kilos each year, is controlled by organised criminal networks, and their activities undermine the rule of law, disrupt social, economic and political stability, and threaten some of the most vulnerable communities and elephant populations across Africa.

In response, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), CITES, and the majority of African countries with elephants have called for the closure of domestic ivory markets. In 2016, the United States introduced a near-total ban on ivory trade, and China has begun the process of shutting down its domestic market with plans to complete the process by the end of 2017.

The EU is a major trading hub for ivory and a source of ivory products for world markets, with many thousands of individual ivory pieces being exported from EU Member States each year. In recent years legal exports of both raw and worked ivory items from the EU to the Far East have increased markedly.

“The United States has seen the writing on the wall and taken decisive action through its near-total ban, introduced last year. China, the world’s biggest market for ivory, and so often characterised as the villain of the story, is doing the same”, continued Travers. “The fact that Europe is lagging behind is potentially disastrous for elephants. With so many elephants being killed, it’s high time the European Union adopted its much-lauded ‘precautionary principle’ in relation to ivory trade. If we want these incredible wild animals to survive and thrive long into the future, we need Europe to stop taking such a passive approach, to reflect the overwhelming desires of its citizens, and  take meaningful action by shutting down all ivory markets without delay.”

Meanwhile, the Born Free Foundation continues to support wildlife law enforcement in the field through training and capacity-building in a number of elephant range countries, including Ethiopia and Kenya, and through supporting organisations working with governments to arrest and hand down deterrent sentences to ivory traffickers.

Born Free Foundation
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