With poachers killing an elephant every 15 minutes on average, the pressure to shut down the legal trade in ivory is intensifying
Damian Carrington, Johannesburg
Sunday 2 October 2016 20.00 BST Last modified on Monday 3 October 2016 09.28 BST
Legal ivory markets across the globe must be urgently closed in order to combat the elephant poaching crisis, according to an agreement struck by 182 nations on Sunday.
The decision is significant in intensifying the pressure on countries that still host such markets, which conservationists say provide cover for criminals to launder illegal ivory.
The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), gathered this week in Johannesburg, agreed for the first time in its history that national ivory markets should be closed rather than regulated. All international trade in ivory is banned but many countries allow antique and other ivory pieces to be bought and sold domestically.
Domestic ivory markets are a highly controversial issue, but the Cites nations agreed unanimously that every country should “take all necessary legislative, regulatory and enforcement measures to close their domestic markets for commercial trade in raw and worked ivory as a matter of urgency.”
More than 140,000 of Africa’s savannah elephants were killed for their ivory between 2007 and 2014, wiping out almost a third of their population, and elephants are still being killed every 15 minutes on average.
“There is no legal market that doesn’t contribute to the illegal trade,” said Susan Lieberman, at the Wildlife Conservation Society. The Cites decision is not legally binding, she said: “But there is now the will of the global community to see the end of domestic ivory markets. There is renewed hope for Africa’s elephants today.”
Robert Hepworth, a former chair of Cites’ top committee and now at the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, said the decision would exert real political pressure: “If your country has a domestic ivory market, this does have a tangible effect.”