UK Silent on French Call for 5 Year Ivory Ban





CONTACT:          Adam Roberts, Animal Welfare Institute
2255-3767 Room 1104 (Bangkok)
07-126-1466 (Bangkok mobile)


Will Travers, Born Free Foundation
2255-3767 Room 1103 (Bangkok)
01-302-5974 (Bangkok mobile)

Bangkok, Thailand—In an unexpected and welcomed move, the French Government is gaining support for its proposal to institute a global moratorium on the international trade in elephant ivory for a minimum of five years. The proposal, if adopted by the Thirteenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES COP 13), now underway in Bangkok, would mean no proposals to renew trade could be considered until 2010 at the earliest.

Well-placed sources confirm that France is now seeking support for this initiative from European Union colleagues and has already received backing from a number of countries including Austria, Germany, and Hungary. However, the United Kingdom, traditionally one of the big players in the long-standing and contentious ivory debate, has remained ominously quiet. The Species Survival Network and its member organisations call on the UK government to declare its support for France immediately and to work with other members of the European Union to promote international acceptance of the moratorium.

"What could possibly be behind the UK's reluctance to promptly declare its unequivocal support for France's suggestion?" asked a mystified Will Travers, President of the Species Survival Network, an organization of more than 80 conservation groups from across the globe. "The British public would be outraged if France's progressive proposition, which would have a significant, positive impact on elephant protection, was to wither and die for lack of UK support. The time for British leadership on this issue is now."

Mr. Travers added: "At the moment, CITES approaches elephant protection and ivory trade almost schizophrenically. It's as if we were trying to put out a raging fire with a fire extinguisher in one hand and a can of gasoline in the other. It's a vicious circle—African elephant range States desperately work to stop elephant poaching and stamp out the illegal ivory trade; meanwhile, others push to relax ivory trade rules."

Winnie Kiiru, from Born Free Kenya, a Nairobi-based NGO, added, "What France is suggesting builds on proposals put forward by the Government of Kenya which already have support from a number of African range States who need time to improve their wildlife protection measures, increase their law enforcement activities, and tackle the problem posed by internal ivory markets that exist in a number of African and Asian countries."

On On the 22nd September, at a meeting between UK NGOs and DEFRA (Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), British government officials confirmed that the European Union was adopting an 'open position' with regard to proposals to re-open limited ivory trading under CITES.

"While an 'open' position is better than outright support for trade, it still falls substantially short of what would be in the long-term interests of elephant protection and what millions of concerned citizens would accept." said Dr. Mari Park, consultant to the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency. "It's not a question of whether there should be a moratorium or not. It's a question of whether the moratorium should be for 5 years as France is suggesting or for 20 years as Kenya proposes. In either case, elephants are desperately in need of a reprieve."

Fears about the extent of the illegal ivory trade and the negative impact any resumption in a legal trade might have are explored in a new report, Tip of the Tusk, published by the Elephant Working Group of the Species Survival Network. "Since 1998 over 95,000 kilogrammes of illegal ivory have been intercepted and more than 12,000 elephants have been reported poached," said the report's editor, Shelley Petch. "It's vital that the Parties to CITES do not risk Africa and Asia's most fragile elephant populations by opening up further trade opportunities but use the concept of a moratorium to deal with critical enforcement, compliance and legislative issues."

UK-based NGOs are trying to reach the Minister responsible for CITES, Elliot Morley MP, to seek clarification on exactly where the UK stands on the French in initiative and to urge him to commit the UK's support for the process.

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