Tuesday, 29 June 2004

Elephant Ivory News release

London , June 24, 2004 : A shocking new exhibit in London’s Docklands was unveiled today to act as a memorial to the millions of elephants gunned down to feed the ivory trade. The exhibit, a huge bloody tusk has been built out of more than 700 pieces of ivory given up by people all over the country during a nationwide amnesty held by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). The memorial is on public display throughout summer 2004. Later in the year, prior to the 13th CITES conference in October, IFAW plans to grind-down the ivory and place it into an hour-glass to symbolise that time is running out for elephants.

A great publicity stunt, but will it save elephants? As far as I am concerned the jury remains out. Several years ago, the Kenyan government, amid a blaze of publicity set fire to a huge stockpile of ivory, but it did little to slow down, let alone halt the poaching of elephants for their ivory.

I have been studying the ivory trade for over a quarter of a century, having been one of the first people to calculate the rate of destruction of elephants from the export figures of ivory from Kenya (published in New Scientist in the 1970s). But I am still not convinced that grinding up, burning or otherwise destroying large stockpiles of ivory will ever have the desired effect. In fact I believe it may well have had the reverse effect. I.e. it is likely to push the value of poached ivory even higher, thereby increasing demand for elephants to be killed.

The best way of reducing the value of most commodities is to flood the market with a glut, or at least have the possibility of flooding it. If all the stockpiles of siezed ivory, plus all the 'amnesty' ivory gathered by IFA and others were kept in warehouses, with the constant threat of the market suddenly being flooded, then this would most likely at least destabilise the market, thereby causing a drop in value, which would also lead to panic selling by the holders of the illegal stock piles that are believed to exist in parts of Asia, further reducing value of ivory, and consequent pressure on elephants.

I am not suggesting legalising the trade in ivory until we can be certain that elephant populations have stabilised, but continuing to reduce supply has not worked in the past, so I don't see it working in the future. Stockpiling, would slowly, but possibly surely force the illegal traders out of business. And then if elephant populations stabilised once more, the stockpiles could be fed into the legal markets in a carefully controlled manner -- just as the diamond markets are controlled.

Grinding up the 'amnesty' ivory, is sure to cause an outcry, as it may well destroy some interesting and significant works of art and many of the older ivory artifacts being destroyed could easily have come from 'natural' ivory -- it was not uncommon for ivory to gathered from the bush a century or so back.

I realise that all of the above is a controversial point of view, and would welcome comment. The trouble with the destruction policy is that it is irreversible. At least stockpiling keeps options open. While there is still a huge demand for ivory in China and other parts of the East, until someone demonstrates a similar example of destruction of a commodity reducing demand, I cannot support more destruction.

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