Mass killing of elephants: Will the EU go on turning a blind eye?

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The African Elephant Coalition (AEC), which comprises 29 African countries, is working to ban all future ivory trade. [Brian Snelson/Flickr]

Every year, 30,000 elephants are killed for their tusks according to Fondation Franz Weber, a Swiss-based NGO campaigning against the ivory trade for over 40 years, writes Willy Fautre.

Willy Fautré is the Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers.

However, the EU continues to turn a deaf ear to the calls for a total ivory trade ban. On 1 July 2016, the European Commission decided that a global ivory trade ban did “not seem justified” and encouraged the Council to take a position against “a general closure of domestic ivory markets.”

This recommendation comes ahead of the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to the 1976 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which will take place in South Africa from 24 September- 5 October and in which 182 member states of CITES will participate.

In 1978, the US Endangered Species Act classified the African Elephant as “threatened.” Since then, elephant populations have dropped to less than half of the number in 1978, falling by roughly 3% every year because of poaching, hunting and habitat destruction.

The EU is the largest exporter of legal ivory, and it is this trade that fuels the illegal trade in ivory, and the mass killing of elephants.

During the past decade, EU member states legally exported more than 20,000 carvings and 564 tusks to Asia. On the other hand, from 2011 to 2014, EU countries seized around 4,500 ivory items that were to be illegally exported to China, Hong Kong, and Vietnam. In these countries, ivory imports far exceed the number of official EU export certificates.

Consumption of ivory by China’s middle class pushed ivory prices from $120 a kilo in 2002 to $2,100 in 2014.

Some EU countries – the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Netherlands, Slovakia, and Sweden – have stopped issuing ivory export certificates and have urged Brussels to make it an EU policy. France and Luxembourg even support a ban on ivory trade, as well as closing domestic ivory markets and destroying ivory stockpiles.

Others, like Belgium, object and continue to legally sell ivory at home and abroad.

On 2 June, the Obama Administration declared a nearly total ban on the commercial trade of ivory in the United States, strengthening hereby the provisions of the 2013 ban.

In March, China imposed a ban on imports of ivory acquired before. As part of the 2016 United States-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue this month, China also committed to publishing a timetable for completely ending its domestic trade in ivory by the end of this year.

According to Vera Weber, the president, and CEO of the Fondation Franz Weber, “African nations have seen a catastrophic decline in their elephant populations over the past five years, in particular, meaning that at current rates of poaching they could go extinct in the wild within 25 years.

They – and I – are appalled to see the European Commission position paper from early July in which the EU continues to support the ivory trade and flatly refuses to introduce a ban in Europe.

What kind of signal does that send to the international community about the EU’s commitment to the preservation of elephants and to biodiversity in Africa generally? A very bad one. The EU needs to move with the times – this is 2016 not 1916.

By supporting the legal ivory trade, the EU is also inadvertently allowing a number of terrorist groups including Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabab in Somalia and the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and other countries to finance their activities from the illegal ivory trade.

These groups threaten African regional security but are also a threat outside the continent. After all, it’s just the Mediterranean Sea that separates us from these groups which pose a threat to our security interests in Europe,” according to John Duhig, Senior Counsellor at the European Foundation for Democracy, a policy institute based in Brussels.

The safety of Europe’s citizens matters more than protecting our domestic ivory markets. The EU needs to do the right thing by introducing a complete ban on the ivory trade now. This will help to cut off one very lucrative funding source for terrorists –it has the opportunity to do so as it prepares its negotiating position for the CITES CoP17 meeting.

The mobilisation for a total ban is gaining steam in Africa. In April, Kenya sent a strong signal worldwide by burning a stockpile of ivory worth $100 million.

Tanzania also announced that it has submitted a special request to the UN council on illegal wildlife trade for an immediate and permanent ban on the ivory trade worldwide.

The African Elephant Coalition (AEC), which comprises 29 African countries, is working to ban all future ivory trade.

In a press release issued on 27 June 2016, the AEC called on the world to join them in saving elephants. Their objective is to put an end to all trade in ivory and to afford elephants the highest protection under international law.

The European Union and its member states cannot stay out of this ambitious and challenging project to stop all trade in ivory and prevent the elephants extinction. African countries are calling on them to help them save their elephants. Europe cannot turn a deaf ear to their call and wash its hands of their blood.