Nick Herbert: A unique chance to choke demand for ivory once and for all

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The front page of this newspaper yesterday provided a stark reminder of the problem facing global elephant populations. At the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in March the international community have a choice. Either support the further ivory stockpile sales proposed by Tanzania and Zambia and risk further fuelling poaching, or support the proposals by countries including Kenya, Rwanda and Sierra Leone to ban any further discussion about these so-called "one-off sales" for 20 years.

Since the last sales in 2008 poaching has seen a sharp increase. The inclusion of China as a buyer of stockpiled ivory, supported by the UK Government, has been linked to this rise, and anecdotal evidence from China tells of a huge and growing market, with many believing the trade has now been legalised. Kenyan officials attribute this rise directly to the stockpile sales. Ministers in Tanzania admit sales they propose could lead to more poaching.

In October I visited India to see the problem. Poachers and buyers of illegal ivory don't distinguish between African or Indian elephants, and an increase in demand threatens all elephants across the globe. In India, as in Africa, there are close links with terrorism.

Robbie Marsland, of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, is right to talk of "blood ivory" replacing "blood diamonds". So, 20 years after the ban was introduced, what can we do to ensure it's enforced? First, oppose any future stockpile sales in international negotiations. Second, work with EU and international partners to support calls for a binding 20-year moratorium on sales of ivory, including lawfully acquired stockpiles. Third, encourage range states to destroy their stockpiles, so they cannot be used to fuel the international trade.

At home, we need to tackle the domestic trade, which often comes across our borders unchecked having been bought online. A Conservative government would create a code of practice for online retailers to ensure they're not facilitating the sale of illegal ivory and we should reinforce our borders with a new UK Border Police force which would take action to combat smuggling and illegal trade of all kinds.

This March the British Government must make a stand: we must choke the demand for ivory, not stoke it.



Nick Herbert is Shadow Environment Secretary

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