The 1989 ban on international trade in elephant ivory was EIA’s first major victory and a milestone in the history of the modern conservation movement. During the 1980s, hundreds of thousands of African elephants were being slaughtered to supply voracious world ivory markets. EIA’s groundbreaking investigations into the billion-dollar trade paved the way for the international community to act.
Many elephant populations across Africa have recovered thanks to this action at a critical moment. But while the ban still holds, in recent years two alarming developments have triggered a new poaching upsurge across Africa.
The first was the international community’s decision, under pressure from southern African governments, to allow two “one-off” sales of ivory stockpiles during the late 1990s. This fed the belief that full-scale ivory trade would soon resume, which in turn encouraged renewed poaching. In 2002, another "one-off" sale of ivory stocks from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana was approved to take place in late 2008.
The second development is an explosion of demand for carved ivory products from increasingly affluent Asian consumers – especially in China. With demand far outstripping supply, illegal ivory trade is flourishing and elephants are being killed from Sudan and the Central African Republic to Mozambique and Zimbabwe in order to supply it.
EIA is deploying its unique skills to counter this latest threat to the world’s remaining wild elephant herds. In an influential 2007 report entitled, Made In China: How China’s Illegal Ivory Trade is Causing a 21st Century African Elephant Disaster, we exposed the scale of renewed poaching and charted the role played by Chinese ivory traders and demand in China. We are now using that information to pressure China to tighten enforcement against ivory smuggling. We are also campaigning for other major ivory consumers, including Thailand and Japan, to ban domestic ivory trade, and for African elephant states to tighten enforcement against ivory smuggling.
Unfortunately, a small group of representatives to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) voted in July 2008 to allow China to become an official bidder in the October-November 2008 auction despite EIA's alarm calls.
Chinese officials have admitted that domestic controls are insufficient to prevent leakage from the illegal market. [read report]
In late October and early November 2008, Japanese and Chinese bidders bought over 100 tons of ivory from the four Southern African nations (South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana) in closed-door auctions. Such an enormous amount of ivory on the market provides easy cover for those seeking to sell illegal ivory items from freshly poached elephants.
EIA will also be working hard to obtain details on the successful bidders in the 2008 auction, and will continue to track illegal ivory leaving Africa and monitor the trade in China.
In the international policy arena, we use our high-level, worldwide contacts to campaign against approval of any further damaging ivory sales by the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). In 2010, EIA’s unique information helped defeat proposals from Zambia and Tanzania which were intended to pave the way for those countries’ own sales of ivory stockpiles [read report].
Please visit EIA's UK site to learn more about the elephant campaign.
As well as continually investigating ivory smuggling syndicates worldwide, EIA helps to train African government personnel in ivory trade enforcement. This critical work focuses on key elephant range states with few resources, such as Zambia and Malawi. At an international policing level, we have presented ivory smuggling evidence at Interpol workshops and distributed hundreds of copies, via Interpol, of EIA’s Customs enforcement film on ivory smuggling detection.