Call for total ban on ivory sales
The escalating global trade has prompted calls from conservationists for China, which has emerged as a major market for ivory, to shut down its legal domestic trade so that smugglers cannot use it to launder illegal ivory. But others at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species meeting in Geneva have called for international restrictions on ivory to be relaxed. Southern African states are pushing for the ivory ban to be lifted from 2017.
The customs seizures represent a tiny fraction of the illegal trade in elephant tusks. The Environmental Investigation Agency, a group set up to monitor illegal elephant killings, estimates that the number of animals being slaughtered each year at its African sites runs into tens of thousands, threatening populations across the continent.
Well over half of illegal ivory ends up in China, according to estimates presented at the meeting. China introduced a robust certification system to identify legally sold ivory in 2008. Since then, the system has broken down and investigators have been finding illegal ivory on sale openly.
"We would like to see a total ban on ivory sales, including on domestic trade in China. As long as there is legal trade, you have a way of laundering illegal ivory," said the agency's Mary Rice.
At this week's meeting delegates from India to Kenya condemned the idea of legalising trade as encouraging poaching. They argued that the most effective way to protect elephants was to improve monitoring systems, intelligence-led enforcement in transit countries and widespread public education of consumers "Some Chinese think tusks fall out and regrow with no harm to the elephant," said Richard Thomas from the wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic. – © Guardian News & Media 2012