The EU is lagging behind in the fight to stop illegal ivory trade, new report finds

Published by David Hayden on

June 15th, 2017

EU laws to prohibit the importation of ivory do not go far enough to crack down on the illegal ivory trade, a new report from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has warned.

The report states that the EU – the world’s largest exporter of legal ivory – can greatly aid efforts to stop the illegal ivory trade by prohibiting the sale of ivory within the EU.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) is an NGO that investigates and campaigns against a wide range of environmental crimes and abuses.

The report also calls for a ban on the exports of worked ivory, as new data gathered by the EIA reveals that it is the most seized illegal ivory product in Europe.

Ivory poaching has been a significant factor in declining populations of African elephants, with 30 per cent of African savannah elephants lost between 2004 and 2015. In addition, 65 per cent of forest elephants were eradicated between 2002 and 2013.

By stimulating demand, the legal ivory market has been shown to feed illegal trade, leading world leaders to recommended that countries completely close their domestic ivory markets at the 2016 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) conference.

‘Progressive Measures’ Lacking in EU

The European Commission also recently recommended a ban on the re-export of raw ivory. While welcome progress, the EIA report states that it does not go far enough.

 “It is crucial that the EU goes beyond an export ban of raw ivory and also prohibits exports of worked ivory,” the report states. “The EU can aid efforts to stop the illegal ivory trade by prohibiting the sale of ivory within the EU, important measures which would support China’s commendable decision to close its domestic ivory market.”

China – the world’s largest ivory market – has promised to close its domestic market by the end of 2017, while the US has adopted a near-total domestic ivory ban.

According to the EIA, the ban in China is already having an impact, with traders reporting prices falling for raw ivory by as much as 50 per cent in two years.

However, the EIA report points out that the EU has yet to adopt such “progressive measures” to close its ivory markets.

“The existence of parallel legal markets for wildlife parts and products, including ivory, undermines conservation and enforcement efforts,” the report states. “Legal ivory normalises the ownership of ivory, stimulates demand and complicates enforcement efforts making it difficult to distinguish between what is legal and what is not.”

New Data on Ivory seizures in Europe

New data released this week by the EIA shows that nearly 200 seizures of ivory were made across 14 European countries since 2000. One seizure was recorded in Ireland at Dublin Airport in 2016.

A combined total of over 11 tonnes of ivory was confiscated during the seizures including several large-scale hauls, which points to the likely involvement of international criminal organisations.

Since 2000, seizures of ivory attributed to the EU but seized outside of Europe have totalled 405kg, according to new data released by the EIA. Half of the incidents mapped involved ivory trafficking by air, transiting in Europe en route to North America and Asia.

The EIA collected data on seizures from enforcement agencies, press releases, governments, NGOs and media reports, and the figures likely only reflects a fraction of the actual illegal ivory trade.

In 2013, an INTERPOL project, supported by International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), took place to identify the drivers and scale of the illegal online trade in ivory. The project revealed hundreds of items worth approximately €1.45 million for sale on Internet auction sites across nine European countries during a single two-week period.

Endangered Species for sale on the ‘Darknet’

According to Tania McCrea-Steele, the IFAW’s Global Wildlife Cybercrime Project Lead, some of the most critically endangered species on earth are now also being sold on the Darknet.

The ‘Darknet’ refers to an obscure portion of the Internet, or a private network, where information is shared anonymously, making it almost impossible to track users.

As much as 96 per cent of the Internet is not indexed by standard search engines, making the Deepweb, of which the Darknet is a part, about 500 times the size of the World Wide Web.

“We simply can’t ignore the opportunities the Darknet offers to criminals wanting to peddle wildlife in secret,” said Ms McCrea-Steele.

David Higgins, Manager of INTERPOL’s Environmental Security programme, confirmed that Illegal wildlife traders may be turning their attention to the Darknet to sell illicit wildlife products from critically endangered species.

A recent INTERPOL report found 21 advertisements on the Darknet offering rhino horn products, ivory and tiger parts between December 2016 and April 2017.

Anonymous users can pay for illegal ivory via the Darknet using cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin which, like the Darknet itself, are designed to be untraceable and free of personally identifying information.

 “Criminals will always seek to identify new areas to make a profit from their illicit activities and the Darknet is no exception,” said Mr Higgins.

“We need to ensure that law enforcement in member countries has the support and resources they need to tackle wildlife crime in both physical and virtual marketplaces to help protect our wildlife and our shared global biodiversity,” said Mr Higgins.

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David Hayden

David is a contributor to the Green News. He has a Bachelor's Degree in International Business and French from UCD as well as a Master's Degrees in French literature and New Media from the University of California at San Diego and the Johns Hopkins University.