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Update on our ivory trade campaign

Great news -- we’ve got Europe’s attention! The EU Environment Commissioner has just put out a statement directly responding to our campaign. He makes strong claims and here’s 6 reasons we’re not giving up!

  1. The EU must close the door on the ivory trade for good: The EU statement confirms it supports an ivory ban, which is great. But the Commission is not opposed to discussions on resuming the trade in future if the current crisis is tackled. As long as a future trade in ivory remains a possibility, poachers and criminals will keep killing elephants and stockpiling tusks in the hope they can benefit from a legal ivory trade in the future. This is particularly important right now, as next year a moratorium on ivory sales expires, which will almost certainly mean a fresh push from some countries to get ivory back on the international market. Indeed, Zimbabwe and Namibia are already lobbying for the trade to resume. That is why we want to get the strongest protection possible for elephants in place beforehand. Furthermore, the EU does not fully support the proposed closure of domestic ivory markets. As long as ivory sales are legal in domestic markets, criminals will launder illegal ivory through those markets. We are calling for the EU to advocate for a complete, permanent, global ban. It’s time to end the trade, everywhere and for good.
  2. Elephants need all the protection they can get: Right now, all African elephants are given the highest level of protection apart from those living in four countries - Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. The EU opposes upgrading their protection to bring all elephants under a single maximum status, saying the science doesn’t support the change . But it makes no sense to consider elephants by country - they are a single, migratory species that travel across national borders. Across Africa, there are now fewer elephants than ever before - 61% of the total population have been lost in the past 33 years, and as a species they easily meet the criteria for maximum protection. When all elephants were given maximum protection in 1989, populations began to recover. But when their status changed and vast stockpiles of ivory were sold in highly restrictive sales, poaching rose sharply.
  3. The vast majority of African countries with elephants say Europe must do more: The EU says African countries are not in agreement on how to save elephants. But 29 of the 37 elephant range states in Africa have agreed on a five-point plan to protect elephants by completely ending the ivory trade for good, and right now Europe is not supporting it. Zimbabwe and Namibia, who oppose the plan, are even advocating resuming the ivory trade so they can sell their stockpiles.
  4. Major conservation organisations support our campaign: Europe says it is backed by major conservation organisations, and it’s true there is debate over how best to protect elephants. But last week, 59 wildlife organisations and experts wrote to EU environment ministers asking for exactly the same things as us - maximum protections for elephants, a permanent and complete ban on the ivory trade, and support for the overwhelming majority of African elephant-range states in their common proposals for CITES.
  5. Poaching and smuggling won’t stop while a legal trade in ivory continues: Europe has been a leader in its support for efforts to crack down on the illegal ivory trade, and stopping that trade is critical to saving elephants. But research shows the illegal ivory trade is fueled by legal sales. One recent study showed a sharp increase in poaching and illegal ivory seizures when ivory was sold legally. The best way to protect our elephants is to shut down the trade in their tusks completely, and make clear such a trade will never start again, while cracking down on the poachers, smugglers and corrupt officials involved in the illegal trade. That’s exactly what we are asking Europe to do.
  6. By giving elephants maximum protection, CITES can send a strong signal: Right now, China is formulating its own domestic ivory ban, which it will announce at the end of the year. Because China is the largest market, the scale and scope of the ban with go a huge way to deciding the future of our elephants -- and the best way to inspire the Chinese to take real action against ivory is to show that the whole world is serious about stamping out the ivory trade, both legal and illegal, for good. By giving elephants maximum protection, CITES would be sending a powerful political signal to the whole world that the ivory trade is over for good.
Europe has done great work in protecting wildlife, often playing a world-leading role on the issue. That’s exactly why it’s so important they continue that leadership at this crucial time. As the biggest voting bloc at the upcoming CITES meeting, Europe is massively powerful, and together with our friends in civil society and African governments, we’re going to keep pushing them to do all they can to keep our elephants safe.

With respect,
Bert Wander
Campaign Director