Andrew White
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

Ivory Trade

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation’s (DSWF) position on the international and domestic trade of ivory.

Every year, tens of thousands of elephants are slaughtered for their ivory at a brutal and unsustainable rate, driving the species towards extinction.

Criminal syndicates and ivory dealers employ armed poachers to brutally kill the elephants and remove their tusks, supplying an illegal market, driven by a growing and insatiable demand from consumer countries.

Down-listing of some African elephant populations in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe to CITES Appendix II, has sent the wrong message to these organisations and the illegal market. Marred by corruption, poor law enforcement, and legal loopholes – alongside the failure of ‘one-off experimental’ ivory stockpile sales in 1999 and 2008 to Asian markets (which just increased demand), the poaching epidemic continues at an alarming and unsustainable rate.

DSWF acknowledges the artistic and cultural relevance of ivory in a historical context and does not condone the destruction of genuine artefacts. But we firmly believe elephants are sentient beings and not a commodity to be traded to the highest bidder, something that markets, consumers, and governments should reflect.

In 2017, the Great African Elephant Census revealed huge declines in savannah elephant populations with an estimated 144,000 elephants killed across 15 African countries between 2007-2014 alone.

Elephant walking, super tusker, black and white
Matt Armstrong-Ford
elephant leg with chains

DSWF actively campaigns for and works to support:

  • A total ban on the international trade in ivory
  • The closure of all domestic ivory markets
  • An improvement in the management of ivory stockpiles and the endorsement of their destruction.
  • An end to the export of live elephants taken from the wild
  • Ending any future discussions on all possible ivory trade

Current trade agreements

Current trade agreements and national listings are politically (not biologically) driven and result in irregular and inconsistent protection.

To curb the escalating threats, DSWF believes the only solution to mitigate the crisis is a comprehensive ban on the ivory trade across all populations. When it is illegal to trade ivory, the issue is reduced to effective law enforcement, without the influence of social, political, and economic factors.

The increasing scale and regularity of recent illegal ivory seizures from poached elephants has resulted in burgeoning domestic markets driven by voracious demand.

DSWF believes that a legal trade produces opportunities to launder poached ivory and creates a drain on the already limited enforcement resources.

Artwork by David Filer
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

Do legal markets contribute to the illegal trade of ivory and put elephant populations at risk?

With falsification of documents and certification, domestic markets enable poached ivory to be traded under the guise of ‘Antique’ or ‘Pre-convention’ ivory legally acquired.

By convoluting a system that is already hard to monitor, measure and enforce, elephant populations will be put at risk unnecessarily.

DSWF believes that conditional trade cannot be sufficiently regulated, and that conditional trade is unmanageable, unenforceable, and simply unacceptable.

Could a legal market sustain demand?

Russ MacLaughlin
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

In economic terms, limiting the supply of ivory can potentially drive prices up and incentivise elephant poaching as a more desirable and harder to obtain product, thus increasing its value and appeal.

But DSWF believes any supported and encouraged legal trade, whether mass market or a more limited, controlled, and higher value supply in ivory, will equally accelerate demand, opening markets to new consumers who couldn’t previously afford it.

This was highlighted in 2008 when CITES approved a second ‘one-off sale’ of raw ivory stockpiles to Asia, with the intention of satisfying demand and reducing pressure on wild populations.

Instead, demand was renewed and fuelled a dramatic and deadly explosion in poaching and the illegal wildlife trade.

Although market dynamics are unclear, DSWF believes that where a legal trade exists, a black-market illegal trade will flourish and exacerbate poaching and the strains put on wild populations.

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation
Skyhawk Photography

Are elephants on a doomed path to extinction due to the illegal trade?

African elephant populations are under threat and are being poached at unsustainable high levels across Africa. Despite this, fantastic efforts are being undertaken by dedicated conservationists around the globe to help save the species.

From demand reduction campaigns being run in Asia (aimed at changing consumer behaviour) to working with governments regarding the closure of domestic markets – change is underway and with growing negative attitudes to the purchasing of ivory products, we are ensuring a long-term future for elephants.

What does the new UK ivory ban look like?

On Monday 6th June 2022, the UK Ivory Act came into force, making it illegal to deal in items made of, or containing, elephant ivory, regardless of their age. This is unless they are registered as exempt or certified as exempt within the following narrow and carefully defined exemptions:

  • Musical instruments made before 1975 with less than 20% ivory by volume
  • Items made before 3 March 1947 with less than 10% ivory by volume
  • Portrait miniatures made before 1918 with a surface area smaller than 320 cm2
  • Items that a qualifying museum intends to buy or hire

Although DSWF acknowledges the ban is a huge step forward, we caution against complacency. The UK must now continue to demonstrate leadership beyond its own ivory ban, to call on the international community to prioritise the conservation of elephants.

Click here for our full statement on the UK ivory ban.

You can also donate today to help put a stop to this brutal trade.

You can support our work to save endangered animals from extinction by adopting today.

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation
Detlef Tibax

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