Many people understandably don’t understand the connection between global markets and the killing of an elephant for its ivory. But with poaching continuing to present the gravest threat to the very existence of elephants (one every fifteen minutes is killed |70% total decline in population in less than 40 years due to poaching, and only 415,000 remaining), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has called for all countries to close their domestic markets.
Canadians are often surprised to learn that the Canadian domestic “legal” ivory trade is still open. The legal trade is one in which the product is dated prior to 1975. The issue with the legal trade is that it is difficult to date ivory and as a result illegal ivory flows through legal domestic markets.
Canada also allows the importation of legal trophies. Under its obligation to CITES (The Convention on the International Trade on Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) those trophies can only come from countries regulated by CITES, and thus it is legal under those circumstances.
Below are the instances in which ivory can enter the country:
In order to legally possess ivory in Canada, the following criteria must be met, in accordance to the Wild Animal and Plant Trade Regulations (13 (1)):
(a) the person who possesses it establishes a reasonable probability that it or, in the case of a part or derivative, the animal or plant from which it comes, was taken from its habitat before July 3, 1975;
(b) the person who possesses it establishes a reasonable probability that it was legally imported into Canada; or
(c) the person who possesses it establishes a reasonable probability that the distributing of it or the offering to distribute it would be in accordance with any applicable federal and provincial laws that relate to the conservation and protection of the animal or plant.
However, these criteria are not applicable to elephant ivory from appendix II. Appendix II ivory is only required to be legally imported into Canada.
Appendix I items must have import and export permits, while appendix II items are only required to have export permits.
Canada’s position on ivory at international conferences:
- IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawaii in 2016 results in an international commitment to close domestic ivory markets. Four countries object – Canada, Namibia, South Africa & Japan
- At the 17th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, Canada voted against moving all African elephants to Appendix I to provide them the highest level of protection.
In recent years there has been some movement from large ivory markets such as the US and China to close their domestic markets which has the potential to have a significant impact on decreasing the ivory trade and give elephants a chance to survive the war being waged on their existence.
- 2015 China and US announce an agreement to a “nearly complete ban” on ivory import/export and commercial domestic ivory trade7 in both countries (no completion date given).
- 2016 January: Hong Kong pledges to a complete ban on commercial domestic ivory trade by 2021.
- June: US passes new regulations that ban almost all domestic ivory trade. August: IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawaii results in international commitment to close domestic ivory markets. Four countries object – Canada, Namibia, South Africa & Japan.
- October: CITES conference in Johannesburg fails to put all elephant populations in Appendix I by only 9 votes – Canada, US, UK & EU vote against it. However, Botswana, with the most elephants, reverses their pro-ivory trade policy and supports a total ban.
- 2017 January: Price of raw ivory in China falls to US$730 per kilogram (65% drop in less 3 years) due to Chinese economic slowdown, anti-poaching team success and crackdown on corruption.
- February: Draft EU guidance document indicates possible ban on raw ivory exports by July 1, to make sure that illegal tusks are not laundered with legal tusks.
- March: China closes the first of its 67 licensed ivory carving factories and retailers, and promises to close its domestic ivory market by end of 2017.
- March: Hong Kong says a bill on ivory trade will be introduced by end June. Hong Kong also convicts 2 people for illegal ivory possession, using radiocarbon dating to prove post-1990 ban.
It would be great to see Canada take pro-active steps to save one of the world’s most iconic, intelligent, keystone species by closing the domestic trade, banning the importation of trophies into Canada and vote to have all elephants moved to Appendix 1 of the CITES convention. I want Canada to be the country who does everything it can to save these magnificent animals from extinction not only because it can but because it should.