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Celebrating World Elephant Day

Partner story

Photo: © Anne Henshaw / Oak Foundation

As we mark World Elephant Day on August 12, it is not only a time to share great pictures of elephants with friends and learn a few new facts about this amazing species but also to consider supporting conservation policies that will help wild populations thrive, including improving enforcement policies to prevent the illegal poaching and trade of ivory, conserving elephant habitats, providing better treatment for captive elephants and reintroducing some captive elephants into sanctuaries.

While most assume that the policies need to be shaped in Africa, where most of the world’s elephants live, or in Asia, where much of the illegal ivory trade is destined, there is considerable work to be done on our doorsteps in Europe and the United Kingdom.

For example, did you know that the United Kingdom is the world’s largest exporter of legal ivory?

New analysis by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has revealed that the UK is the world’s largest exporter of legal ivory – and the largest exporter of legal ivory to Hong Kong and China. EIA wildlife campaigners scrutinised the trade database maintained by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which records certificates issued for legal ivory exports. During 2010-15, the data show that:

  • the UK exported 370 per cent more ivory items globally than the next highest exporter, the USA;
  • the UK occupied the top spot in the list of largest ivory exporters for each year except 2015, when it was second only to Italy;
  • UK ivory exports to Hong Kong and China increased dramatically over the period, while exports to the USA plummeted as the US Government introduced greater restrictions on international and domestic ivory trade.

“UK ivory exports are stimulating consumer demand globally, especially in Hong Kong and China, two of the world’s largest markets for both legal and illegal ivory. Even as the Government of China works towards closing its domestic ivory market by the end of 2017, the UK continues to inject a large amount of ivory into China.”

– EIA executive director Mary Rice.

As well as fuelling demand for ivory, the UK’s legal trade provides opportunities for the laundering of illegal ivory, both within the country and internationally. Therefore, the UK Government should stop issuing permits for all ivory exports with immediate effect, not least to show solidarity with the Hong Kong and Chinese Governments, which have both committed to closing their domestic ivory markets. The UK Government has said it will launch a consultation about further restrictions on the country’s ivory trade – something the Conservative Party has promised in two successive election manifestos.

If you want to celebrate elephants this World Elephant Day, certainly have a look at some amazing imagery of this evocative species—but take a minute to write to your elected officials to tell them that you would like them to show strong leadership on elephant conservation. Or in our lifetimes, we may only have pictures left…