Could possessing ivory – even ancient carvings crafted long before the current crisis in poaching – become socially unacceptable? It seems far-fetched, and yet some ivory owners are surrendering their collections to protest against the current illegal trade.
From tiny trinkets to large family heirlooms, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has collected some 50kg of ivory, donated in response to an appeal, and it will be crushed in central London next month.
It is intended to be a powerful symbol of popular revulsion head of the London Conference of world leaders meeting to discuss wildlife crime on 12 and 13 February.
The conference will focus on this wildlife crime, worth an estimated £19bn a year. Ivory will be a top priority, not only because of the rate at which elephant numbers are declining, but also because the trade has been linked to terrorist organisations including al-Shabaab, the Somalia-based cell of group al-Qa’ida. and central Africa’s Lord’s Resistance Army and pose a threat to national security.
Though much of the ivory traded is illegal, loopholes in trade regulations allow the sale of ivory in some circumstances. Ivory obtained before an international ban in 1989 is legal. Countries such as South Africa and Zimbabwe, where elephant populations are relatively stable are also allowed to sell trophy licences, that allow hunters to bring ivory across borders. These gaps in the law enable contraband ivory to be smuggled and traded.
Robbie Marsland, the UK director of the IFAW, said: “Many people have unwanted ivory trinkets and by donating them for destruction, they can be sure this ivory will not end up on the market again or have a commercial value.
“At this key time when all eyes will be on London, the IFAW’s ivory surrender and crush will also help focus attention on the cruel ivory trade. Legal ivory trade often provides a smokescreen for more illegal killing of elephants and by donating unwanted ivory people will be making a positive contribution to elephant protection.”
The IFAW is urging people in the UK to hand in unwanted ivory ahead of the summit. It says: “We are inviting members of the public to give up their ivory for elephants and encourage family, friends and colleagues to do the same.”
This invitation comes after the IFAW, along with a coalition of 10 NGOs, sent an open letter to the EU, calling on member states to destroy illegal ivory stockpiles. It states: “The destruction of ivory stockpiles – no matter how big – will highlight the plight of tens of thousands of elephants that are being killed each year to supply the traffickers.
“It will hopefully educate consumers that in buying ivory they are putting elephants’ lives and possibly the future of the species at risk, and would thus contribute to reducing demand.” According to the Elephant Trade Information System, ivory seizures in 2014 reached a landmark 41 tons, and represented the largest number of seizures in 25 years. Though governments have made significant gestures towards stopping the ivory trade, conservationists have criticised the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species’ decision to allow legal markets for ivory to operate in parallel to the illegal trade.
In recent months, China, the US and the Philippines have crushed stockpiled ivory to show they are cracking down on the ivory trade. Hong Kong and France have also announced they will destroy their stockpiles soon.
However, though governments are making symbolic gestures, penalties against traders are relatively small. Last week, a 30-year old online trader from Battersea, south-west London, who pleaded guilty to charges of trading ivory, whale and dolphin bone and marine turtle shell on eBay, was fined just £1,375.
Our campaign against elephant poaching supports Space for Giants, a Kenya-based charity which protects elephants from the increasingly militarized tactics of traffickers and poachers and encourages governments to crush their illegal stockpiles. In the run up to the London conference, follow our elephant appeal in The Independent and its sister titles.
Anyone wishing to donate ivory items is asked to post them to: Campaigns Department, International Fund for Animal Welfare, 87-90 Albert Embankment, London, SE1 7UD. For queries or large items, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0207 587 6700.