CITES Urges World to Close Ivory Markets and Save Elephants

Recently, the United States placed a near-complete ban on ivory sales. China has promised to follow suit. And France recently joined the fray. But what about the rest of the world?

Today, the parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) addressed this question by agreeing to revise Resolution 10.10. The revised resolution recommends that countries with domestic ivory markets that contribute to elephant poaching or the illegal ivory trade “take all necessary legislative, regulatory and enforcement measures to close [such] markets . . . as a matter of urgency.” The revised resolution also asks governments, NGOs, and donors to provide countries who wish to close their markets with funding and technical expertise.

The revisions echo an NRDC-co-sponsored motion approved at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) World Conservation Congress earlier this month.

These much-needed revisions are based on the widespread acknowledgement that legal markets for ivory increase elephant poaching by creating an opportunity to launder illegal ivory under the guise of legality. The revisions are also necessary because while many countries have already announced plans to close their legal domestic ivory markets, they require assistance to do so.

Of course these revisions won’t lead all countries to immediately close their markets. For example, Japan—and perhaps even some countries in the European Union (a thriving market for antique ivory)—will inevitably claim that their markets don’t “contribute to killing or illegal trade of elephants.” That’s nonsense, of course. As NRDC discovered during an investigation of California’s ivory market, loose regulation of “antique” ivory creates a huge loophole for traffickers to sell new, illegal “blood ivory.”

However, it’s exciting to see CITES—a body that focuses on international trade—urge countries to do something about their domestic markets. The idea that domestic and international wildlife markets are inextricably linked is pretty much common-sense. Yet, some CITES Parties have been reluctant to admit this connection. 

It also fills me with hope to see countries from across the globe take an interest in the accomplishments that the U.S. and China, in particular, have made when it comes to closing their ivory markets.

At NRDC, we stand ready to use the expertise we’ve gained in helping shut down the U.S. ivory trade (both on the federal level and in New York, California, and Hawaii) to help other countries, as CITES has instructed.

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