Letter: Ivory ban was brought in after 'sustainable utilisation' policy failed

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The Independent Online
Sir: It seems to have become fashionable for some writers to attack the environmental community. It may be inevitable that once a whaling moratorium or ivory ban has been achieved, the 'clever' twist is whether it was right in the first place.

Raymond Bonner's interpretation of events leading to the ivory ban in 1989 ('The hype is as high as an elephant's eye', 10 April) is both flawed and patronising. Wildlife groups, although influential, have no vote at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), where the ban was agreed. The proposal for the ivory ban first came from the Republic of Tanzania, followed swiftly by Kenya and Somalia, weeks before some of the groups mentioned in the article came out in support of the ban. These were proposals based on first-hand knowledge of poaching and the terrible loss of human life resulting from brave attempts to save elephants.

It is true that poaching was not so rampant in some southern African countries. However, our investigations at the time revealed that these countries laundered poached ivory and were equally implicated in the tragedy occurring in east, central and west Africa. South Africa alone had sold far more ivory than could be accounted for, even if its entire elephant population had died. The fact that it opposed the ban surprised few.

Mr Bonner reiterates tired and inaccurate statements and the record should finally be put straight. Despite repeated propaganda from southern Africa, it is completely untrue that ivory sales have provided funds for conservation in these countries. It is also important to realise that 'sustainable utilisation' of elephants (killing them) to help economies had already been the policy preceding 1989. The policy had fuelled poaching and increased ivory prices and was resulting in the slaughter (I use the word very deliberately) of about 70,000 elephants each year. It was a conservation disaster and the ban was proposed in response to that policy's failure.

The ivory ban was supported again in 1992 at the Cites meeting in Kyoto. This time even more African countries supported it than in 1989, including some that had had doubts in 1989. Since the ban they had witnessed the decline in poaching, the decline in the market, and the crash in ivory prices. Much more important evidence than a hypothesis written in New York to publicise a book.

Yours sincerely,


Executive Director

Environmental Investigation


London, EC1

11 April