World govts urge closure of ivory markets to save elephants

MIAMI • In a bid to stop the killing of elephants for their tusks, world governments have voted at a major conservation conference to urge the closure of all domestic ivory markets.

After fierce debate, the motion was adopted on the final day of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress, a 10-day meeting that drew 9,000 people to Honolulu, Hawaii.

"Today's vote by IUCN members is the first time that a major international body has called on every country in the world to close its legal markets for elephant ivory," said Mr Andrew Wetzler, deputy chief programme officer at the Natural Resources Defence Council.

"It's truly a landmark moment and a victory for elephants that will hopefully be repeated later this month at the next meeting of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in Johannesburg."

Although the motion is non-binding, it "urges the governments of countries with domestic ivory markets to take all necessary legislative and regulatory efforts to close them", according to the IUCN.

  • 8% Annual rate of decline of savanna elephants.

    144,000 Total number lost in less than a decade.

Wildlife groups hailed the IUCN move and called for more action at the Cites talks in Johannesburg later this month. "The global conservation community is stepping up," said Wildlife Conservation Society president and chief executive Cristian Samper. "Elephants have had enough of the ivory trade and so has the world."

Experts say that domestic ivory markets help fuel poaching by allowing traffickers a cover for their illegal imports and exports. The United States and China, among the biggest consumers of ivory, have already agreed to enact near-total bans on their domestic markets. At the IUCN meeting, Japan and Namibia, which also have thriving domestic ivory markets, sought to soften the language of the motion, but those efforts were rejected.

Cites banned international commercial trade in African elephant ivory in 1989, but illegal poaching of endangered elephants for their tusks persists at dangerous levels, according to research released at the start of the conference, the largest of its kind in the conservation community.

Savanna elephants have declined at a rate of 27,000 - or 8 per cent - per year, with a total of 144,000 lost in less than a decade, said the findings.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2016, with the headline 'World govts urge closure of ivory markets to save elephants'. Print Edition | Subscribe