In Fighting Illegal Ivory, EU Lags Behind
“The global shift against the trade is evident, and the EU’s failure to put its own house in order will place it in an increasingly isolated position,” says Sally Case of the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, a British charity that provides funding and research support for international endangered wildlife projects.
On Monday the EU Environment Council—the environment ministers of the 28 member states—will meet in Luxembourg to consider new ivory trade controls.
Global demand for ivory remains high. Legal ivory exports from the EU, especially to China and Hong Kong, as well as trade among member states, likely fuel demand and facilitate laundering of poached ivory into the trade system.
Ivory trafficking by criminal syndicates causes the poaching deaths of some 30,000 African elephants a year.
The EU is the world’s largest exporter of pre-convention ivory—ivory acquired before the creation, in 1976, of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the body that regulates wildlife trade. In that year the African elephant was listed as at risk, and restrictions on trade in ivory came into effect.
Many Europeans in countries such as Belgium, which had African colonies, have been selling off ivory pieces they inherited in the years since nations won their independence. During the past decade EU countries legally exported more than 20,000 carvings and 564 tusks, according to CITES, and the numbers have been going up. By contrast fewer than a thousand carvings and a single tusk have been exported from the U.S. during that time.
According to an EU report, between 2003 and 2014, 92 percent of EU exports of pre-convention tusks went to China or Hong Kong. The increasing volume of ivory shipped to Asia has led to concerns that the legal trade is spurring demand for ivory, both legal and illegal, and exacerbating elephant poaching.
But Enrico Brivia—spokesperson for the EU’s Commission of the Environment, Maritime Affairs, and Fisheries—disagrees. He contends that, “In the European Union the domestic trade in pre-convention ivory is strictly regulated. There is no evidence that this domestic market has been used as a cover for illegal ivory,” he says.
The CITES wildlife trade database, however, shows that China’s and Hong Kong’s ivory imports exceed that accounted for by the number of EU export certificates.
A 2014 report on EU ivory exports notes that, “There are undoubtedly cases of fraudulent EU documents in circulation, and it is possible that falsified or forged internal EU trade certificates are being used as a basis for re-export certificate applications.”
According to the report, such certificates are used as a loophole to launder pre-convention ivory into the illegal market—a relatively easy thing to do in the EU, whose member countries are borderless when it comes to trade and where there are inconsistences in the administration of ivory export permits.
An EU document issued in February 2016 states that, “Between 2011 and 2014, EU Member States reported seizures of around 4500 ivory items reported as specimens and an additional 780 kg as reported by weight. Most was destined for Asia, particularly China, Hong Kong and Vietnam.” The report notes that “it is often difficult to distinguish pre-Convention or worked specimens, which can be legally re-exported from the EU, from other ivory items, for which such export is banned.” It points out there are many cases of buyers purchasing ivory using forged pre-convention certificates with the intention of exporting them illegally to Asia.
“When it comes to ivory policy,” says Rob Hepworth, senior advisor for the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation and a former CITES official, “the EU is weaker as a collective entity than as individual parties.” CITES’s policies, he says, apply to individual nations, not massive trading blocs that set their own rules for internal trade.
“The current CITES resolution addressing trade in elephant ivory does not require prohibition of domestic trade,” says CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon, who adds that even though “the EU, and many of its member states, have provided great support in combating the illegal wildlife trade financially, politically and technically, measures taken in the EU are only as strong as the weakest link.”
“AFRICAN COUNTRIES BLAZING A TRAIL”
Along with the U.S. and China, in April 27 African elephant range countries that are part of the African Elephant Coalition submitted five complementary proposals to CITES to protect elephants, including the closing down of all domestic ivory markets.
“African countries are blazing a trail to shut down the global ivory market,” says Vera Weber, president of the Swiss-based Fondation Franz Weber, a partner organization of the African Elephant Coalition. “The EU needs to support their initiative and demonstrate its commitment to the world by shutting down its own market.”
Unlike Belgium, some EU nations—the Czech Republic, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Sweden, and the U.K.—have stopped issuing ivory export certificates and have called on Brussels to make this an EU-wide policy.
“The fact that some member states are stronger and more committed to the international law as individual nations makes a mockery of the EU,” says Stella Reynolds, an international lawyer based in France. According to Reynolds, the European Union was created “to target global industry to ensure future peace and an absence of conflict. So it’s incredible,” she says, “that the EU is hiding from its responsibility in this modern-day global ivory conflict.”
“The EU must walk the talk and abolish ivory trade once and for all,” says Daniela Freyer of Pro Wildlife, a Germany-based advocacy group specializing in regional and international wildlife regulations, in a press release. “EU ministers must demonstrate leadership to secure the survival of elephants.”
Please Take part in the UK government and EU consultations on banning the ivory trade! Every day we don’t act means there are hundreds less elephants left in the world.
One day we might wake up and realise that while we have been ignoring the issue the world’s population of elephants has become extinct.
John Scanlon, 2016
There is a growing need for a more long-term approach to elephant conservation, one which establishes buffer and cross-border zones, links up protected and already established areas, involves and supports key stakeholders, and leads to the creation of a network of corridors and destinations large enough to support resident and migratory populations.
Initiatives are gathering pace throughout wild Africa. One excellent example is the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) in the North Eastern Province, where a switched-on NGO is empowering local communities, linking conservancies and recreating a wonderful north Kenyan wilderness. An equally fine example is Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (Kaza) which, with the help of the Peace Parks Foundation, has negotiated a free-to-range mandate for wildlife from five southern African countries, covering 520,000 square kilometres and linking 36 protected areas.
Both NRT and Kaza are subtle, nuanced and highly complex arrangements between multiple and, sometimes, competing stakeholders. The task of protecting wild African elephants is not simply seen as a moral obligation but as a significant wealth generator – something which is key to the strategy.
A dead adult elephant is worth around $21,000 (£17,000) in ivory sales. A live one is worth $1.6m (£1.3m) in tourist income. Proposing that the 11-year moratorium on ivory sales be lifted and the proceeds from confiscated stock sales be reinvested in local communities – as Namibia and Zimbabwe did at Cites (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) this year – therefore makes little sense. The return on ivory sales pales in comparison to the financial rewards generated by mixed land-use conservation strategies. The eco-tourist industry, which is driven and grown by elephants, is more than capable of compensating for land lost to migratory corridors.
What’s good for the elephant is good for the ecosystem as a whole, which is why countries like Zimbabwe and Namibia – both, incidentally, key players in the Kaza initiative – must be persuaded of the folly of ivory stock sales. It would send the wrong message to the world and, as previous one-off sales have shown, result in a rise in killings by poaching.
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