A strategy for a legal trade in ivory

A ban on the trade in ivory has been in place since 1990. One of the main arguments used by NGOs against revisiting a legal trade is that the one-off sales in ivory “stimulated” demand and thus poaching. Dan Stiles an elephant trade expert based in Kenya argues in an article in National Geographic in September that  there is no evidence that the one off sales stimulated demand. In fact, it is the ban itself that has directly resulted in the poaching crisis.

Stiles argues that the trade ban and burning of ivory created scarcity and uncertainty of supply which has encouraged the stockpiling, higher prices and thus poaching of elephants for their ivory. Stiles proposes a legalization of the trade as a way to bring traders and ivory carving factories into a legal market based on a sustainable harvest of ivory in African range states.

Demand for ivory, he argues, is driven by three factors:

  1. Growing cultural valuation placed on ivory in China combined with greater arts financial investment in ivory.
  2. the 2009 six year moratorium on one off sales fueled speculation as supply became more uncertain
  3. “Stop ivory” campaign create further perception of scarcity.

With demand increasing, record prices are creating the conditions for corruption that no law enforcement approach is equipped to deal with.

Stiles proposes a legal trade strategy that includes:

On the demand side:

– Drawing the factory owners into buying legal supply by ensuring a legal supply of 40-50 tons which is achievable through natural mortality – he argues the owners prefer legal supply which is more reliable. “the only reason an illegal market operates at all is the lack of sufficient legal supply, which is controlled by the government at 5-6 tons a year”

– Drawing factories into buying legal supply through government offered quotas of legal ivory. Severe penalties for unregistered factories found operating, thus raising risk and lowering reward.

– Driving down consumer demand through

  • raising the price of carved ivory in consumer markets using taxation
  • producing only high value carved items rather than trinkets (more Versace than Walmart)
  • NGO campaigns

On the supply side:

– Drawing on Africa’s stockpile of 800 tonnes of ivory to supply the market

– Supplying the market with natural mortality and problem animal control (PAC) (c.60 tonnes)

– Central to the strategy is giving African governments the economic incentive to trade open and legally and based on sustainable harvest. “why take the risk of smuggling illegal ivory that is subject to confiscation when it can be sold legally, risk-free?”

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