12/02/2014 07:00 GMT | Updated 13/04/2014 06:59 BST

Top Five Myths of the Ivory Trade

What if we told you that the wild African Elephant, a species so iconic to us all, might be extinct by 2025 and that one elephant is killed every 15 minutes for its tusks? Sadly, that's the bleak reality facing the species and its set to continue unless action is taken against the trade in ivory. Ahead of a major conference of world leaders to discuss wildlife crime (which includes the poaching of elephants and the ivory trade), we wanted to de-bunk a few myths about this deadly trade:

1. Wasn't the sale of ivory made illegal in 1989?

Yes and No! In 1989, CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) banned international sales of ivory following international outcry about the ivory trade and its wholesale slaughter of elephants. But, crucially the ban kept domestic trades in place, which continue to allow antique ivory to be bought and sold.

More recently, CITES allowed two-one off sales of ivory to China and Japan in 2002 and 2008 to sell to their domestic consumers, and since then demand for ivory has thrived again. In countries like China, this has only served to confuse buyers and across the world, it has made law enforcement harder as the trade becomes more lucrative and fresh ivory is laundered among antique ivory. At the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, our experiences have found this has led to tens of thousands of elephants killed for their tusks, driven by a demand that these two 'one-off sales' satiated.

2. So I can still buy ivory in the UK & the USA?

Yes. Although the international trade in ivory is banned meaning that sale, transport, import and export is prohibited, antique ivory (pre-1949) can be sold with documentation. Such documents are frequently forged and it is not always possible to prove the age or origin of ivory, creating the potential for exploitation by criminals.

3. France, China, the USA and the Philippines have just destroyed their ivory stockpiles. Wouldn't that drive up the price of ivory?

Many have suggested stockpiles should be used to 'flood' the market and drive down the price of ivory but put bluntly, there aren't enough elephants left for this to work. As poachers continue to slaughter and deplete elephant populations, the same logic would argue that living elephants should become ever more valuable to tourism and economies. However as it stands, confiscated and seized ivory is illegal and therefore would never be released onto the market, meaning its destruction has no impact on illegal ivory in circulation. Seized drugs and arms aren't put on sale by Governments to reduce street price and demand so ivory should be no different.

Plus stockpiles cost Governments money in security costs. Wouldn't you rather your tax contributions go towards protecting live elephants, rather than dead relics?

4. Surely wildlife crime & the illegal ivory trade isn't that serious an issue. Not compared to drugs or arms at least?

The illegal trade in wildlife is worth up to $19 billion and is one of the world's top criminal activities -- ranked alongside drugs, arms, and human trafficking. It threatens lives, as well as global security; over 1000 wildlife rangers have been killed protecting wildlife across the world over the past 10 years and it's known to fund terrorist groups including Al Shabaab and the Lords Resistance Army.

5. What can we do about it?

This week, the London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade hosted by Prime Minister David Cameron will aim to find a political commitment to ending the elephant poaching crisis. Yet meetings have previously taken place across the world where attendees have pledged to sign agreements and said they abhor the trade in ivory. What makes this one any different?

Ending the killing means ending all trades in ivory and destroying ivory stockpiles. It also means stopping demand for a product that's not a luxury or status symbol, but in fact the symbol of a dead elephant. If the conference is serious about ending the slaughter, then commitment to action is needed. After all, actions speak louder than words.

Through our iworry campaign, we're asking for attendees to commit to:

  1. Ban domestic ivory markets and legal trades
  2. Destroy any ivory stockpiles and future seized ivory
  3. Make penalties for wildlife crime mean something
  4. Commit money to a central fund to be used to;

  • Provide training and additional 'boots-on-the-ground' to tackle poaching on the frontline
  • Reduce and ultimately eliminate demand for ivory through educational campaigns, to dispel the myths about ivory and increased awareness of the plight of elephants in ivory consumer nations
  • Enhance port (sea/air) security to better detect shipments containing wildlife parts
  • Develop community driven wildlife initiatives, to ensure those living alongside wildlife are incentivised to protect it

It might seem a tall order but that's what it will take to save a species.As hosts of the Conference, we hope the UK leads by example and shuts down our own domestic markets as the US Administration and US Fish and Wildlife Service has just announced.

There's precious little time left. We must demonstrate our credentials as the self-appointed custodians of the natural world, from which we have become so detached, and not as its destroyers.

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