Culprits of the illegal ivory trade identified

Posted on 16 September 2004    
Highly prized African elephant (Loxodonta africana) tusks.
© WWF / Martin Harvey
Gland, Switzerland - More than four thousand elephants are being killed a year to meet the demand for ivory from Africa and Asia, according to a report on work partly funded by WWF.

The report, Monitoring of Illegal Hunting in Elephant Range States, is published by a programme of the CITES Secretariat, which regulates the international trade in endangered species. It says the impact is particularly bad in Central Africa, where elephant populations are threatened by poaching. The report comes as TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, publishes a list of the world's countries most implicated in the illegal ivory trade. 
China, followed by Thailand, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Nigeria are the most important suppliers, manufacturers, and customers of illegal ivory, according to the TRAFFIC analysis of data from the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS). 
The ETIS analysis shows that the volume of illegal ivory seizures across the world has increased since 1995.
It points out that corruption and the lack of law enforcement of domestic ivory markets in Africa and Asia are fuelling the thriving illegal international trade. This often happens under the guise of legal trading of domestic ivory within the borders of individual countries. 
"These domestic markets are driving the poaching of thousands of elephants each year, both in Africa and Asia," said Dr Susan Lieberman, Director of WWF’s Species Programme. "With just three weeks to go before the world comes together to look at the problems of international wildlife trade, we call upon all countries, including the host country of Thailand, to close down these illegal markets." 
While the demand for ivory from China is the overriding reason for the global rise in illegal trade between 1995 and 2004, the ETIS report notes that for the past two years improved law enforcement has resulted in increased ivory seizures and better monitoring. 
The report also calls on Thailand to tighten its laws regulating domestic ivory markets, which according to WWF are totally inadequate to tackle the country’s flourishing ivory trade. 
Within Africa, where the illegal ivory trade remains rampant, there have been no improvements in DRC, Nigeria, and Cameroon over the past two years. Furthermore, Angola, Mozambique, and Sudan are emerging as problem countries. 
"This is not a new problem, but we need a new way of tackling it," said Dr PJ Stephenson, WWF's African Elephant Programme coordinator. "Illegal ivory markets are having a major impact on elephant populations, particularly in west and central Africa, and co-ordinated action needs to be taken to bring them under control.” 
The report also criticizes the US for lax regulation of its ivory market and Singapore for failing to report any ivory seizures in recent years.   
WWF is calling on countries at CITES in Bangkok next month to increase their commitment to law enforcement and for those with domestic markets to increase their efforts to close legal loopholes and shut down the trade. 
TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, works to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature. TRAFFIC is a joint programme of WWF and IUCN - the World Conservation Union and works in close co-operation with the CITES Secretariat.

• ETIS stands for Elephant Trade Information System — a comprehensive information system to track illegal trade in ivory and other elephant products. It aims to record and analyse levels and trends in illegal trade of ivory. The central component of ETIS is a database on seizures of elephant specimens that have occurred anywhere in the world since 1989. The seizure database is supported by a series of subsidiary database components that assess law enforcement effort and efficiency, rates of reporting, domestic ivory markets, and background economic variables.  

• Based on a statistical analysis of more than 9,400 elephant product seizure records held ETIS, the report will be a formal agenda item for discussion at the upcoming meeting of the 166-member Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Bangkok, Thailand from 2–14 October 2004.   
• Considered the world's most important wildlife agreement, CITES is the only global treaty that regulates trade in threatened and endangered animals and plants.
• MIKE stands for Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants, a programme implemented by CITES. The overall goal of MIKE is to provide information needed for elephant range states to make appropriate management and enforcement decisions, and to build institutional capacity within the range states for the long-term management of their elephant populations. 

For further information:

Joanna Benn
WWF Species Programme
+41 22 364 9093

Olivier van Bogaert
Press Office, WWF International
+41 22 364 9554
Highly prized African elephant (Loxodonta africana) tusks.
© WWF / Martin Harvey Enlarge

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