The Ivory Trade

image of Kenyan ivory stockpiles being burned as a statement to dealers. Taken from

image of Kenyan ivory stockpiles being burned as a statement to dealers. Taken from

Michael Gove made me proud to be British last week. There. I said it. Let's move on.

Gove plans to implement one of the world’s toughest bans on ivory sales. This will make sales of ivory of any age illegal in the UK, and is an attempt to stifle poaching. He rightfully states that 'ivory should never be seen as a commodity for financial gain or a status symbol.' There are some very limited exceptions to the ban, such as rare or important items that are at least 100 years old, which will be assessed by specialist institutions before exemption permits are issued. Breaking the ban will result in a five years in jail or an unlimited fine. 

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It is estimated that about 20,000 elephants are killed every year for their tusks and, the closer elephants come to extinction, the higher the price of their tusks becomes. Disturbingly, this means ivory traffickers actually want to see the extinction of this majestic creature, as it would be 'good for business'. The ivory trade is driven entirely by greed. It is a truly soul-destroying story.

Thankfully, China has now also made the sale of ivory illegal. This is a significant step as China remains one of the world’s biggest markets for ivory. Hong Kong is following suit, and all domestic sales are to be prohibited from 2021 onwards. As a consequence of these bans, Laos now has the fastest growing ivory market in the world. Without a comprehensive global ban, the value of ivory will continue to soar and trade-capitals will simply migrate.

The black market is the crux of the problem. Poachers in Africa go through Vietnam to deliver ivory to dealers in China or elsewhere. There is a growing fight against the ivory trade in China but, inexplicably, owning ivory is still seen as a sign of wealth to some.  

Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot being done to try and tackling poaching. When you enter game parks in Africa, all vehicles are thoroughly searched and hundreds of rangers give their lives to protect elephants from poachers. There is a lot of work being done by organisations like the African Wildlife Foundation, Tusk Trust, and Stop Ivory to protect the elephant population. 

In February, Esmond Bradley Martin, who was known for his undercover work in rhino conservation and ivory sales, was found stabbed to death in his home. His work uncovering the illegal sales of ivory and rhinoceros’ horn is inspirational. He spent his life exposing wildlife black markets, and produced an immense volume of research and investigative works on this issue.

There’s also a pretty bad ass organisation called Wildleaks, which is a whistleblowing initiative for wildlife and forest crime. These are true undercover heroes who risk their lives to protect animals. They actually tackle a whole host of issues like illegal logging, and the human toll on wildlife crime. Anyone with information about illegal wildlife or forest activity can anonymously tip-off the organisation, and they then investigate.

If you can handle it, there is a truly heart-rending documentary called The Ivory Game on Netflix. I had refrained from watching it for a while, which I regret. Full disclosure, it is not an easy watch. I was in floods. But it is truly one the best documentaries I’ve come across. The thing that really made it so tough to watch was the conservationists’ accounts of how the elephants deal with loss. They explain that elephants feel in similar ways to humans. They have very strong family bonds and, when one elephant dies, the death has a huge emotional and developmental impact on the rest of the herd. If you have a spare couple hours, and are emotionally prepared, watch it.

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I’m pretty confident that none of our Green18 followers would even contemplate owning any ivory. Our role in this particular battle is now simply supporting the good guys. We are thankfully on our way to some very meaningful wildlife protection policies, and anti-trafficking enforcement is becoming much more stringent. We can support the conservationists by donating or even just talking about these issues. It is great that people are pushing for change from the Government, because it does work.

It would be beautiful if at some point we stopped pillaging the earth for everything we deem to be a valuable commodity. However, that's a blog post for another day...