The EU’s ivory trade restrictions: Are they enough?

Antique ivory is still legally allowed to be sold in many European countries. Despite laws that are in place that prohibit the sale of modern ivory, which is ivory that originates after 1947, an environmental group has warned that a lot of the trade that’s going on is much more recent.

The environmental group Avaaz say that a lot of the sales that are happening are, in fact, illegally poached ivory that’s being covered up and sold as antiques. The group bought 100 ivory items within Europe from ten different countries. All of the items purchased were advertised as being poached before 1947, which can be sold without restrictions or had no date information.

They then had the ivory radiocarbon dated at Oxford University’s Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit. Worryingly, they found that a massive 74% were modern ivory and 20% were from animals killed after 1989, which is when the global ban can into force. One of the items purchased in Spain was dated later than 2010. Overall, all the pieces bought in Italy, Spain and Bulgaria were illegal, as well as the majority bought in France, Portugal and the Netherlands.

Bert Wander from Avaaz said: “It’s sick. I’m looking at the trinkets we bought on my desk, and to think that an elephant with all the things we are learning about them, about their cognition and their advanced societies, and to think that one of them has died for this bracelet I’m holding now, it makes you sick to your stomach.”

Catherine Bearder, a member of the European Parliament who’s pushed for the ban on ivory sales added: “These shocking results show that the supposed ‘legal’ ivory market is actually driving the mindless slaughter of elephants. It is time for all EU countries to introduce a full ivory ban with a limited number of exceptions for exceptional art works.”

The EU has recently introduced stricter policies to combat illegal ivory trading. Officials say that all members states need to make it a priority; but, is it enough? There have been many calls for the sale of ivory to be banned altogether; despite this, the EU continues to be a major exporter of ivory and the European Parliament is still considering whether the current restrictions are adequate.

EU spokesman Enrico Brivio commented: “The Commission will continue to fight any kind of illegal trading, including the fraud of passing off recent ivory as antique. Addressing elephant poaching and ivory trafficking is a cornerstone of the EU action against wildlife trafficking and the EU has recently adopted numerous initiatives to this end.”

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