Jan 222016

This week, representatives from countries around the world are gathered in Geneva to discuss the wildlife trade. The agenda ranges from rhinos to totoabas, but one of the hottest topics is ivory: Some 30,000 elephants are slaughtered for their tusks each year.

One thing that came up at the 66th meeting of the Standing Committee for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was whether to continue discussions about legalizing the ivory trade.

The United States, the European Union, Kenya, Uganda, and most other countries all argued that given the current poaching crisis it would be unproductive and dangerous to proceed with discussions about legalizing the ivory trade.

Confiscated elephant tusks are crushed in the Philippines, one of 15 countries to destroy its ivory stockpile. South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe oppose the destruction of illegal ivory. Photograph by Erik De Castro, Reuters

South Africa wanted to further ivory trade discussions. That’s because it believes that legalizing the trade will drive down prices by increasing the supply of ivory. Lower prices mean less incentive to poach. Many economists, however, reject this supply-and demand model as too simplistic.

A majority of Standing Committee members ultimately voted in support of a proposal to suspend discussions that could establish a mechanism to decide whether to legalize the trade. The discussion may be picked up again in September when all members of CITES meet in Johannesburg.

On Tuesday, South Africa also stood nearly alone in its opposition to ar resolution that lauded CITES for supporting the destruction of government stockpiles of ivory seized from poachers and traffickers. CITES and most countries believe that destroying illegal ivory is the best way to deter people from buying ivory products.

Public ivory destructions, usually by crushing or burning, have become an increasingly common way for governments to deal with their stockpiles of illegal ivory seized from traffickers. This is because it’s effective in preventing illegal ivory from re-entering the market—government stockpiles have been known to leak—and helps sends the message that ivory markets should be shut down.

But Thea Carroll, South Africa’s representative at the meeting, said, “South Africa is concerned about the negative consequences of destroying stockpiles.”

South Africa’s view is that destroying ivory increases its scarcity and therefore drives up prices. When ivory gets more valuable, poaching intensifies. Once again, many economists reject that reasoning.

Only Zimbabwe and Botswana spoke up in support of Carroll’s opposition to ivory stockpile destructions.

The three countries made a profit from their stockpiles in 2008 when CITES approved a one-time ivory sale to China and Japan. That move is widely believed to have spurred the current elephant poaching crisis, in which some 30,000 are killed each year.

Since 2011, there have been 11 ivory destruction events in 10 countries: Kenya, Gabon, the Philippines, India, United States, China (including Hong Kong), France, Chad, Belgium, and Portugal. Sri Lanka is planning an ivory crush for later this month, and the governments of Malawi, New Zealand, and Vietnam have voiced interest in destroying theirs, according to CITES.

CITES says that the trend can be attributed in part to its having encouraged stockpile destructions at its 2014 Standing Committee meeting.

But South Africa asserted on Tuesday that CITES acted out of turn by encouraging governments to destroy their ivory.

Several NGOs at the meeting also spoke out against South Africa’s position.

South Africa’s objection to destroying stockpiles “implies that the country endorses future trading of ivory,” said Will Travers, chairperson of the Species Survival Network, which coordinates with NGOs to secure CITES protections for plants and animals that are bought and sold around the world.

The European Union, speaking for the majority, said that any discussion of a legal trade in ivory should be taken off the table for at least the next four years. “We should concentrate instead on poaching and the war on poaching,” Zoltán Czirak, the EU representative, told the committee.

This article was first published by National Geographic on 13 Jan 2015.

We invite you to share your opinion whether the ivory trade in South Africa should be legalized? Please vote and leave your comments at the bottom of this page:

Should the ivory trade in South Africa be legalized?

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Melloney Strudwick

Instead of burning it all, flood the market with it and make the price so low that it will not be worth poaching! Even sell crushed FAKE stuff for medicines, n one will think it worth their while if it costs mere pennies!

All Birds

What kind of bull**** question is this?! NO, absolutely NOT!

Kimberly Ritter

The ivory belongs to the animals tht wears it. Not for humans pleasure like trinkets. Dont legalize ivory trade it will hurt us all expecially the animals

Barbara Jordan

Absolutely NO lets shoot the poachers now

Barbara Jordan

Absolutely NO lets shoot the poachers now

Ruth DuBelko

Of course it should not be legalized. These beings should be protected from the poachers!

Amy Tatton
If I didn't know any better, I would go as far as to say I think your website is a farce, I will be reporting this website and finding out who is responsible for the lack of irresponsible behaviour and lack of consideration into the nature of language and questions being used, because it is obvious to anyone why its more than ridiculous to be asking such questions and look who you are attracting…..individuals who secretly support these pages to vote against the only safeguarding/protection we currently have, which in itself is not sufficient enough to completely stop these heartless,… Read more »
Marilyn-Brian Ashman

Never! Ever!

Leonor Mendonça


Garett Garbry

YES!!!! Start selling all that rhino horn they’re stockpiling too!!!! Money for the conservation of these species and eliminates the market for the cruel poachers.

Susan Frudd

What a question…..NO it should not………

Leigh Lofgren

what idiot brought this question up? They need to STOP all the killing of animals for ivory and start protecting their wildlife. Infuriating seeing this

Steve Gent

Of course not

Anda V Zevedei

of course not, ivory trade should not be legalised in any country!

Yvonne Olausson


Leann Dyer

Oh he’ll no


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