By Common Dreams Staff

In a bid to stop the killing of elephants for their tusks, world governments voted [Saturday] at a major conservation conference to urge the closure of all domestic ivory markets.

After fierce debate, disagreements and walkouts the motion was adopted on the final day of the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress, a 10-day meeting that drew 9,000 people to Honolulu, Hawaii this month.

The domestic ban was backed by most of the 217 state and national members of IUCN, as well as over 1,000 conservation groups that are part of the union. But some countries, including Japan, Namibia and South Africa, argued against the ban.

The international trade in ivory has been banned since 1989 but in many countries, including the US, UK and China, domestic ivory trading is still allowed for antiques.

“Today’s vote by IUCN members is the first time that a major international body has called on every country in the world to close its legal markets for elephant ivory,” said Andrew Wetzler, deputy chief program officer at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“It’s truly a landmark moment, and a victory for elephants that will hopefully be repeated later this month at the next meeting of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Johannesburg.”

The following statement was released by WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) President and CEO Cristian Samper, who also serves on the U.S. Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking:

The global conservation community is stepping up: No more domestic ivory sales. Elephants have had enough of the ivory trade and so has the world. Today’s vote at the IUCN World Conservation Congress calling for closure of domestic elephant ivory markets across the globe is vital–as the news about Africa’s elephants is as bad as bad news gets.

As thousands of conservationists gathered in Honolulu for the World Conservation Congress, it was more than clear that IUCN members needed to take a strong stand if Africa’s elephants were to have a chance at survival.

At the start of the Congress, WCS issued a scientific paper, with lead author WCS’s Andrea Turkalo, showing that it will take almost a century for Africa’s forest elephants to recover from the intense poaching they have suffered since 2002. In addition, The Great Elephant Census, funded by Microsoft founder Paul Allen, and undertaken by a team of scientists and conservationists, including WCS’s Dr. Paul Elkan, Falk Grossmann, and other WCS field staff, working in cooperation with government wildlife departments, has now documented that savanna elephants have declined at a rate of 27,000 — or 8 percent — per year, with a total of 144,000 lost in less than a decade. The surveys also revealed that several populations, particularly in West and Central Africa, are at dangerously low levels- risking local extinction.

The shutting down of domestic ivory markets will send a clear signal to traffickers and organized criminal syndicates that ivory is worthless and will no longer support their criminal activities causing security problems in local communities and wiping out wildlife. Critically, closing domestic markets will also prevent the selling of illegal ivory under the cover of a legal trade, making it much easier for law enforcement agencies to do their jobs and much harder for the syndicates to profit from their nefarious trade.

As we leave Hawai’i, many in the conservation community, including government representatives, will now head to a major meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Johannesburg. There, we remain hopeful the delegates will be emboldened by the IUCN vote to adopt a resolution submitted by African governments that also calls for closure of domestic ivory markets.

At WCS and with our 96 Elephants campaign, we have fought this fight to protect elephants on several levels – local, national, and international. We have been encouraged by U.S. states including Hawaii, New York, and California for banning ivory sales, countries including the United States and France for closing their markets, and by China and Hong Kong SAR promising to do the same. Other positive steps, along with critically reinforcing site based anti-poaching and protected area management actions, have included an increasing number of countries across Africa taking more effective law enforcement actions against poachers and in their ports, and countries across the world burning or crushing their stockpiles of confiscated ivory. All these actions have kept momentum behind shutting down the ivory markets which have devastated elephant populations, and for taking all the other actions vital to ensure elephants have a future.

While China has not taken the final step needed to shut down its domestic ivory market, they have committed to close their market soon and inflict the largest blow to the ivory criminals. In September 2015, US President Obama and Chinese President Xi committed to ‘enact nearly complete bans’ on ivory imports and exports.

It is important to note that the IUCN ivory motion highlighted the leadership of African nations behind the movement to save elephants, including African-led efforts such as the Cotonou Declaration of 2015, the African Elephant Action Plan and associated African Elephant Fund, and the Elephant Protection Initiative. Africa’s leadership has been inspiring to all. Their elephants and their communities are suffering—and the world must heed the call to put an end to the ivory trade, once and for all.

The movement behind Africa’s elephants gives us all hope and will ensure that the elephant will continue to be a vital part of Africa’s magnificent natural heritage.

WCS will not halt in this effort as we work to stop the killing, stop the trafficking, and stop the demand.

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