Comment
Ivory ban

Traffic believes the US and UK ivory sale bans are ‘vital elements in the international response’ to poaching

The official spokesman of the wild-trade monitoring organisation responds to The Art Newspaper's article on the trade in elephant ivory

The bill to ban the UK trade in ivory had its second reading in parliament in June Pawan Sharma

Re: The UK’s ban on ivory sales will not protect the elephants

Dear Ms Somers Cocks,

I am writing to you concerning the above article, which was published online in the Art Newspaper on 2 July 2018, in order to clarify a number of the points you attribute to me contained with it.

I believe the current published version is likely to confuse and mislead readers as to the contents of the conversation that actually took place during our telephone interview in June this year.

Specifically, I wish to clarify the following points from your article:

“Banning the sale of antique, worked ivory in the UK will not make any difference to the market for new ivory in Asia, and hence the poaching of elephants, claims Richard Thomas.”

As I noted during our conversation that while a ban will not help the elephants that supplied the ivory used in the antiques, the UK ban is an important element to the international response to bring down poaching of elephants for their ivory. Though the major flows of newly poached ivory supply the current markets in Asia, the regulatory and enforcement efforts in those countries may be confused by ongoing re-exports of older items from Europe and the US.

“‘President Obama’s banning of the ivory trade in the US in 2014 was of much less consequence than the 2017 Chinese moratorium on the importation and working of ivory’”.

Again, as I stated during our call, the US (and indeed forthcoming UK) bans are vital elements to the international response: it may not be those markets where the demand is currently highest, but the act of making and implementing these bans is hugely symbolic. Thus I find it disingenuous that you chose to interpret this as implying I considered the US ban of less consequence than the China ban.

“The much publicised bonfires of captured ivory tusks are foolish, he believes: ‘All they do is put the price up.’”

I do not consider ivory destruction events to be a foolish act, and I certainly did not use this term during our conversation. I did note that the jury is still out as to what the impact of such public events is—as very little research into this has been undertaken—with some claiming they affect the price of ivory, but others noting their hugely symbolic and powerful messaging that the ivory trade will not be tolerated. You neglected my point that destroying ivory puts it permanently out of circulation and thus unable to leak into illegal trade, which remains a possibility if it is stockpiled.

“He thinks it would be better for government stockpiles in Africa to be sold.”

This appears to be your interpretation of my comment above about the danger of stockpiled ivory leaking into illegal trade. In fact I believe such a move would be an extremely bad idea in the context of current market trends. Indeed, at the CITES meeting in 2016, TRAFFIC recommended that Parties reject proposals from Nambia and Zimbabwe for the resumption of international commercial trade in their ivory stockpiles. TRAFFIC’s policy is that we fully support the closure of all ivory markets contributing to poaching or illegal trade and urge all countries to make the necessary legislative, regulatory and enforcement measures to close those domestic markets as a matter of urgency.

Yours sincerely,

Richard D. Thomas