Global perspective Human stories

Unregulated domestic markets driving illegal ivory trade, UN-backed reports find

Unregulated domestic markets driving illegal ivory trade, UN-backed reports find

Unregulated domestic markets are driving the illegal trade in ivory despite a virtually continuous ban since 1989 on global trade in the precious material, according to a series of reports compiled by an international monitoring body set up under a United Nations-backed treaty.

Statistical analyses by the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), a comprehensive international monitoring system for tracking illegal trade in elephant products, indicate that seizure volumes of illegal ivory progressively declined from 1989 to 1994, remained stable at 1994 levels through to 1998, but have been on the increase ever since.

The reports attribute this rise in illegal trade to large, unregulated domestic markets in a number of Asian and African countries, saying that the increasing economic power of consumers in China is making that country the major force in driving ivory demand worldwide.

Besides China, other countries implicated as being frequent sources or destinations for large volumes of illegal ivory - largely as a result of poor law enforcement - include Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Thailand. Other key players are Cameroon, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Uganda.

The reports by ETIS, which was established in 1997 by the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), are expected to be presented next month in Santiago, Chile, at the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES.

"We're concerned that illegal trade in ivory is increasing," said Willem Wijnstekers, Secretary-General of CITES, which is administered by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). "At the same time, it is some consolation to note that this increase does not appear to be related to decisions taken under CITES, but rather potent and new economic forces in countries that traditionally value elephant ivory."