With 2011 acknowledged as the worst year for elephants since the international ivory trade ban of 1989, it should come as no great surprise that there has been considerable interest and a raft of articles in the media featuring dead elephants in recent months.
The latest is National Geographic Magazine’s investigative report Blood Ivory, the lead feature in the October issue. Researched and written by Bryan Christy over three years, this is the most thorough and comprehensive assessment of the crisis affecting the world’s elephant populations to be published in a long time. It provides clear insight into the enormity and extent of the illegal international trade in ivory and should prove to be a major game-changer in advance of the next meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok in March 2013.
Christy is also highly critical of the global ivory trading system operated by CITES and offers some measure of vindication for the longstanding and frequently articulated view of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) that the CITES ivory-trading mechanism is profoundly flawed, empirically unsupportable and has itself become a major driver of poaching and the illegal international trade in ivory.
Two one-off ivory sales have done nothing but perpetuate demand for ivory, both legal and illegal.
The international ban on trade in ivory – in which EIA’s investigations and findings played a key role – was put in place in 1989 at the end of a 10-year period during which at least one elephant died every 10 minutes.
However, in less than a decade CITES had agreed to a compromise, allowing a one-off sale of stockpiled ivory from Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to a single buyer, Japan. At the same time, and in order to determine the success or failure of the ‘Japan experiment’, CITES decided to use ivory seizures as a tool to estimate smuggling activity and engaged the NGO Traffic to audit them through its Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS).
In 2000, EIA published the report Lethal Experiment which cautioned that the ‘experimental’ sale was deeply flawed since promised safeguards to evaluate the impacts were not in place and “the 1999 international ivory sales were effectively an experiment without control”. Elephant range states such as Kenya expressed concern that China was emerging as a major new market for illegal ivory. EIA’s investigations in 1999 and 2000 supported this concern, identifying China as a major recipient of smuggled ivory and underlining the real threat posed by any further CITES-authorised international trade in ivory. The widespread availability of ivory products and the increasing number of seizures destined for China were clear indicators of a thriving black market in ivory and growing local demand. All these warnings fell on deaf ears. More....