, NAIROBI, Kenya Jan 14 – A coalition of 15 African countries have applauded China’s commitment to close its domestic ivory markets by the end of this year.
The Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI) is a pledge, by African leaders, to protect their elephants while putting ivory trade aside, including pushing for the closure of domestic ivory markets in source, transit and consumer countries.
The closure of China’s ivory market, the foremost destination for ivory from innumerable poached elephants, is widely considered to be the single most important step to securing a future for elephants in their current range.
Dawud Mume Ali, Director General of the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority, said “On behalf of the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, as well as in my capacity as Chair of the Elephant Protection Initiative Implementation Board, it gives me a great pleasure and honour to congratulate the President of the Republic of China.
Their declaration shows a commitment to leadership on conservation at the highest level. Ethiopia, as a founding member of the EPI, is not ready to be part of the generation allowing the extinction of elephants from this planet. The world must end its appetite for ivory: ivory belongs to elephants. We hope that other consumer countries will join China in banning the trade. United we can make a difference”
According to the Great Elephant Census, in the last seven years over 144,000 African elephants were slaughtered for ivory, with the majority of that ivory heading for China.
The EPI was established in February 2014 at the London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade by leaders from Botswana, Chad, Gabon, Ethiopia and Tanzania as an urgent response to this elephant poaching crisis.
They have since been joined by 10 more states: Uganda, The Gambia, Malawi, Kenya, Liberia, Congo, Angola, Sierra Leone and Somalia.
Brighton Kumchedwa, the Director of National Parks and Wildlife for Malawi, said “China’s pledge to stop their domestic ivory trade in 2017 is extremely welcome, because it will both reduce demand and also close the legal markets through which criminals are known to launder illegal ivory.
Malawi has taken our own fight to combat illegal ivory trade to another level – just last month the courts have passed record sentences for wildlife crime, and Parliament passed new wildlife legislation.
But as one country there is only so much we can do, and China’s commitment has boosted our determination and belief that if we all work together we can indeed save Africa’s elephants from extinction.”
Current global demand for ivory product, fueling the elephant poaching crisis, is at its highest since before The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) ban on international ivory trade came into force in 1989.
At that time the price of ivory fell, and elephant populations began to recover. Since then there have been two sanctioned ‘one-off’ sales; of 49.4 metric tons of ivory from Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to Japan in 1999 and of 102 metric tons of ivory from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to Japan and China.
In recent years, consignments of illegal ivory, many of which could be weighed by the ton, were intercepted en route from Africa to Asia.
The involvement of highly organized criminal networksis clear, as is the devastating effect of their lucrative trade on elephant populations, local communities and national security.
According to Dr. Dolmia Malachie, Chad’s National Elephant Action Plan Coordinator, “China’s announcement will provide a strong platform for African leaders to continue their urgent work to secure funding for National Elephant Action Plans developed under the EPI, and, it is hoped, a less challenging environment to implement them.”
John Stephenson, CEO of NGO Stop Ivory which, together with Conservation International, serves as co-secretariat of the EPI, said “The member states of the EPI, and their partners, know that, in order to protect elephant populations, domestic ivory markets must close. Where markets exist, demand for ivory is perpetuated and easily laundered illegal ivory has a place to hide.
The leadership and advocacy of African governments, particularly at the CITES Conference of the Parties in September 2016, has undoubtedly played a key role in China’s welcome willingness and commitment to stop the trade.”