Agony and Ivory

The demand for ivory has soared in recent years with illegal traders cashing in despite the availability of legally traded products, the executive director of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) Mary Rice warned at yesterday’s ‘Rhino Mayday’ event held by Save the Rhino International in London.

Despite the legal trade, up to 90 per cent of ivory on the market came from illegal sources,’ she told the audience at London University’s Grant Museum of Zoology.

She said the legal market provided ‘a massive smokescreen’ for the illegal trade. ‘Because it’s available everybody simply thinks that it’s okay,’ she suggested. ‘How can a similar programme now be considered for rhino horn?’

There have been growing calls to legalise the trade in rhino horn in recent months because it is believed in some quarters that relaxing the ban on the sale of horn would curb demand, bring down prices and deter the poachers.

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the state wildlife body for KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, and a pioneer in rhino conservation, has recently come out in favour of the move. South Africa’s rhinos have suffered a huge hit since the recent upsurge in poaching, with nearly 500 animals lost in 2011 and 199 rhinos already lost so far in 2012.

Mary Rice told the conference if the poaching continued some people believed there would be no rhinos left in 50 years’ time.

China and Japan were permitted to make a one-off purchase of legally-sourced African ivory in 2008, on condition that the domestic market was regulated. The ivory was from stockpiles held by Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

‘This was meant to flood the markets, reduce the price of ivory on the market, and thereby reduce the need for poaching,’ she said. But the opposite had happened and China had failed to abide by its assurances that no illegal ivory would be allowed to enter the market.

‘The legal trade has created a smokescreen for the illegal trade. The market is growing… the price for legal ivory is so high that illegal traders can undercut it.’

A legal trade can only work where there are stringent controls in place,’ she suggested. ‘How can China possibly be considered a suitable candidate for introducing a similar system for rhinos?’

The Save the Rhino ‘Rhino Mayday’ event brought together a number of prominent rhino experts, conservationists and specialists in wildlife crime and was organised to target the current rhino poaching crisis.

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One Comment on “Agony and Ivory”

  1. Cody June 18, 2012 at 2:14 am #

    I just found your project through your linkedin page. I’m trying to do something similar, although to a lesser extend in scope, in Mozambique with elephants. Check out my project here: And feel free to contact me at cody dot pope at gmail dot com if you have an suggestions or advice. I’m heading out to Mozambique 29 June.

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