Ivory trade restart passes first hurdle at CITES

elephant tusk

tusks look much better on elephants than your table or mantle piece.

The calls to restart the trade in ivory under highly regulated conditions have passed the first hurdle at the recent CITES meeting where the  350 delegates of 175 nations agreed to consider a plan to allow trading at the next meeting in October.

The plan could see ivory from current stockpiles being traded as early as next year. Plans that were put to the recent CITES meeting were rejected but proponents were asked to tweak the plans and represent them to the delegates in October. If the new revised plans are accepted then they will be presented to the full committee in March 2013 for final approval.

With South Africa currently considering whether to submit proposals in October for the resumption of rhino horn trading the meeting in October could be a heated meeting. 

The new plan will see countries allowed to sell their stockpiles of ivory. Only ivory from elephants that have died of natural causes would be permitted to enter the market and no culling of elephants would be allowed. 

Those that support the resumption of legal ivory trade see it as a way of raising much-needed funds to pay for extra conservation measures. They also believe that a regular extra supply of legal ivory onto the market will push down the price on the black-market. This could then mean fewer elephants being poached and killed because the rewards will not be as high.

If the revised plans are accepted it will be the first time since 1989 that a global market in elephant tusk will be established.

A small working party is to review the plans and prepare them for submission. Comments on the plans are being accepted up to 31st August 2012.

 The report that was submitted to the CITES committee envisaged a sustainable ivory harvest of 300 tonnes each year from 350,000 elephants. The elephants would have died from:

  • natural causes,
  • control of problem elephants,
  • trophy hunting,
  • culling for ecological purposes.

The source of some of the ivory was a concern for the CITES committee and is one of the reasons for the review and revision of the proposals.

One of the proposals of the report is the creation of a Central Ivory Selling Organisation that will be the bridge between the governments selling the ivory and the actual ivory carvers themselves so cutting out the middlemen.  In the two one-off sales that have been undertaken so far to Japan in 1999 and Japan and China in 2008 most of the profit was taken by wholesalers and middlemen. The supplying nations lost out on 66% of the income in 1999 and 75% in the sale in 2008.

By connecting up the sellers and users directly the buying chain will be kept as short as possible and this will reduce the opportunities for illegal ivory to enter the supply chain.

One question that is raised over the proposal is just how much of an impact the legal ivory will have on the price of illegally poached ivory. The sustainable ivory harvest of 300 tonnes needs to be put in the context of the amount of ivory that was traded immediately before the ban in 1989 when over 140,000 tonnes of ivory was sold.

On the positive side if all the income from the 300 tonnes was directed to anti-poaching operations and patrols it would see a big boost to elephant protection. At an approx wholesale price of £1,100 a kilogramme on the black market the sales could release £330 million for anti-poacing and conservation activities.

The October meeting is set to be a heated and passionate discussion especially if South Africa does submit its proposal for restarting the rhino horn trade.

External sites:

CITES: Decision-making mechanisms and necessary conditions for a future trade in African Elephant Ivory (pdf).

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