Ivory Yes and No.
A few days after the conclusion of the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species (CITES), at which 171 countries joined to discuss the control
of trade in endangered species, debate over the legalization of ivory is still
raging. On one side are countries who see it as a possible boon for local economies
in developing nations, while others fear a massacre of animals symbolic of Africa.
As the discussions continue, so does the trade in contraband ivory, making a profit
of no less than 9 billion euros per year for criminal organizations.
Banned in 1989, trade in ivory is tempting: one kilo can see for 600 euros.
“The hunters are usually poor farmers,” Anthropologist Daniel Stiles explains
to PeaceReporter, “but big businessmen and politicians are supplying them guns
and raking in profits.” The practice is diffuse especially in Cameroon, the Central
African Republic, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, in part because the penalties vary from
small fines to a few months in prison. The fines aren’t high enough to discourage
people who live on less than one euro per day.
The trade in contraband ivory has grown disturbingly since 2000 because of the
appearance of criminal gangs from Asia, who import raw ivory from Africa for processing
in China. The effects are devastating. According to the NGO Traffic, in Congo
alone the rhinoceros population declined 60 percent between 2003-2005, while between
1970 and 1992 the black rhinoceros is virtually extinct, its population reduced
by 98 percent. All concerned with the issue credit CITES with having saved the
day in 1989. But the decision to grant 60 tons of ivory from Africa to Japan this
year did not go down well with many environmentalists.
Conflicts. The issue brought out contrasts between different African nations. On one side
stands South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia, who want the trade to be regulated,
exploiting ivory taken from dead animals and legalizing strictly limited hunting.
“Hundreds of kilos of ivory are laying unused in collection sites,” Stiles confirms,
“If they could use it, they could resolve the problem without having to kill a
single animal.” On the other side, Kenya and Mali call for a twenty-year moratorium
on ivory sales. “We don’t want to give the false signal that there exists a market
for ivory,” Paul Udoto of the Kenya Wildlife Service tells us, “because in the
long term it will only lead to the killing of more animals.” During the conference,
Kenya offered to “acquire” from other nations any unwanted rhinoceroses. No one
accepted the proposal.
At the base of the issue is the doubt that legal commerce would assist local
communities. “the problem is that ivory cannot be considered a resource like normal
agricultural or industrial products, “ Remi Chandram, an environmental researcher
at United Nations University, stresses to PeaceReporter, “There is so little ivory
available, it could never meet the needs of the masses of the poor.”
Another unknown factor is the lack of adequate means of controlling the trade.
According to a recent study by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, out
of 2275 ivory objects sold via internet in seven different countries, 94 percent
lacked any certificate of origin. The ivory trade is increasingly shifting to
the internet, in response to which eBay has banned the sale of ivory objects on
The situation is no better for traditional means of sale. Interpol data coming
from individual countries is often unreliable, meaning there are no sure statistics
on the profits coming from ivory contraband. “all we know is that it’s growing,”
says Stiles, “and sales come from Asian countries toward the US and Europe, where
Asian-worked ivory is much in demand.” Udoto stresses that, “If the US and European
countries can’t control the traffic, how can we think that Zimbabwe or the Central
African Republic can?”
But at the same time, the prohibition on ivory trade seems to favor corruption.
Early in the year, a cargo of ivory seized in the Philippines “disappeared” from
under the eyes of customs inspectors. Legalization could resolve the problem if,
as Chandran puts it, “it’s done so that the money gets to the people. I’m talking
about laws that block the import of raw ivory and favor the establishment of small-scale
ivory processing in the country where it’s produced.”
. In recent years, elephants and rhinos have become victims of a new and still
more dangerous market. Especially in the Central African Republic, small forest
elephants are hunted by hijackers and pygmies for their meat, much prized by African
elites. “An elephant can sell for up to 4500 euros for its meat (against 135 for
its tusks),” Stiles reveals, “Hunting is becoming very popular, partly because
in poor countries people cannot afford livestock.” Once it is killed, the elephant
is cut to pieces which are smoked so that the meat is preserved until it arrives
in the city, where its price leaps astronomically. Here too, there are no reliable
statistics, because forest elephants live in small groups scattered between the
region between Guinea and Uganda. The most recent figures, from 1989, estimated
172,000 elephants in the Congo basin. No one knows how quickly they are being