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Crushing the Illegal Ivory Trade, One Market at a Time

By Amy Zets, EIA Endangered Species Policy Analyst

Last Friday, the Unites States destroyed more than one ton of seized illegal ivory in the middle of Times Square, New York—the second time in two years that ivory has been crushed in the Unites States. The goal of an ivory crush is to send a signal that ivory trafficking won’t be tolerated and to demonstrate U.S. commitment to protecting the world’s elephants.

For a glimpse of Friday’s historic ivory crush in Times Square, check out EIA’s brief film.

Since the initial U.S. ivory destruction in November 2013, global momentum to squelch the ivory trade and save the world’s elephants from being brutally killed for their tusks has picked up. As a symbol, many countries have followed suit by destroying their own seized ivory.

The U.S. National Strategy on Combatting Wildlife Trafficking and its accompanying Implementation Plan were released, featuring plans to shut down the U.S. commercial ivory trade through a series of administrative actions to ban ivory trade within the United States. The final pieces of the legislation are anticipated to be released in the near future. States are also taking action to combat ivory trafficking—New York and New Jersey have passed legislation banning commercial ivory trade while other states are in the process of passing similar legislation to do their part to protect elephants.

The world anxiously anticipates the United States’ proposed ivory rule and remaining details of the ivory trade ban, particularly because the world’s leading trader in illegal ivory, China, is apparently awaiting U.S. action before banning its own ivory trade. Following U.S. leadership, China has destroyed seized ivory twice— each time paralleling the two U.S. ivory crushes, with six metric tons and three-quarters of a ton of ivory destroyed respectively. If China were to ban its domestic commercial ivory trade in a timely fashion, it would be a critically important contribution towards eliminating the illegal ivory trade and reducing the slaughter of Africa’s elephants.

Last month, the Chinese government announced it would “strictly control ivory processing and trade until the commercial processing and sale of ivory and its products are eventually halted,” but details and a timeline have yet to be announced, leaving this statement and intent ambiguous. Indeed, we are still waiting for Thailand to ban its domestic ivory trade after being congratulated for committing to do so in 2013. High-level U.S. and China representatives will meet this week in Washington, D.C. for the 7th Strategic and Economic Dialogue, with wildlife trafficking on the agenda for the third time. EIA hopes that parallel domestic commercial ivory trade bans are prioritized in order to protect elephants.

While all eyes are on the United States and China, Japan’s resurgent ivory trade is slipping under the radar. Often represented by pro-ivory trade voices as being the best-controlled ivory trade in Asia, Japan’s domestic ivory trade system is in reality riddled with loopholes that can be used to launder illegal ivory. For example, in 2011 Takaichi Inc., Japan's largest manufacturer of ivory hanko name seals, was exposed for purchasing between 500 and 1600 illegal raw tusks. These illegal tusks were used to manufacture up to 87 percent of ivory hanko name seals on the Japanese market between 2005 and 2010. It’s time for Japan to ban domestic ivory trade starting with banning internet trade in ivory, therefore ending the sale of ivory hanko name seals, and ending with any further government registration of whole raw tusks—a huge loophole that allows illegal ivory to be legalized and laundered onto the Japanese domestic market. Japan must act to close down its domestic ivory market to protect the world’s elephants.

The current elephant poaching epidemic is out of control. Since 2009, more than 60 percent of elephants in Tanzania have been wiped out, its population dropping from 109,000 down to just over 43,000. In the same five years, nearly 50 percent of Mozambique’s elephant population has been obliterated, dropping from over 20,000 to less than 10,000. In Central Africa, 65 percent of elephants were killed between 2002 and 2013. We must stop this deadly trade. Crushing ivory is a major symbolic step towards crushing the ivory trade that drives the elephant slaughter.

EIA's evidence gathered over twenty-eight years of conducting undercover investigations into illegal ivory trade—more than any other organization in the world—demonstrates that legal ivory trade at both the national and international level is incompatible with the conservation of elephants. EIA continues to urge all nations to implement domestic trade bans and close down loopholes that enable the illegal ivory trade to persist.

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