Appetite for Ivory Kills 4,000 Elephants a Year

GLAND, Switzerland, September 16, 2004 (ENS) - More than 4,000 elephants are losing their lives each year to meet the demand for ivory from Africa and Asia, according to a new report published ahead of the upcoming meeting of Parties to the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). It shows that the volume of illegal ivory seizures across the world has increased since 1995.

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 latest analysis of data from the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS).


Confiscated African elephant Loxodonta africana ivory and rhino horn (Photo by Martin Harvey © WWF-Canon)
The analysis by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network of WWF and IUCN, for the first time lists the world's countries most implicated in the illegal ivory trade. There has been a worldwide ban on trade in elephant ivory since 1990 to protect the dwindling elephant population.

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. The 166 governments that are Parties to the CITES treaty will meet from October 2 to 14 in Bangkok to update the rules for international wildlife trade.

The report says the impact of the illegal ivory trade is particularly bad in Central Africa, where elephant populations are threatened by poaching.

The illegal trade is thriving under the guise of legal trading of domestic ivory within the borders of individual countries, TRAFFIC reports


Loxodonta africana cyclotis Forest elephant bull Gamba, Gabon (Photo by Hervé Morand © WWF-Canon)
"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 Global Species Program. "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."

WWF and TRAFFIC call on Thailand to tighten its laws regulating domestic ivory markets, which according to WWF are 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.

But in China, while demand is strong, the past two years have brought improved law enforcement that has resulted in increased ivory seizures and better monitoring.


Carved ivory seized by Canadian Wildlife Services (Photo © WWF-Canon)
"This is not a new problem" said Dr. P.J. Stephenson, coordinator of WWF's African Elephant Program, "but we need a new way of tackling it. 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 criticizes the United States for lax regulation of its ivory market and Singapore for failing to report any ivory seizures in recent years.

ETIS is a comprehensive information system to track illegal trade in ivory and other elephant products. It aims to record and analyze 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 in the Elephant Trade Information System, the report will be a formal agenda item for discussion at the CITES meeting in Bangkok.

WWF will be urging countries there 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.