Poaching kills thousands of elephants a year. Photo: CC, Yathin S Krishnappa.
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Elephant populations too low to not ban their ivory imports

Canada currently has no ban on all ivory imports; instead, legislation bans ivory from elephants killed after 1990. Simply put, this is not good enough, and so Canada needs to work towards banning all ivory.  

Ivory comes from several animals, but the most common and well documented source of ivory comes from elephants. The illegal ivory trade is the root cause of the deaths of the 20,000 elephants that are killed each year by poachers around the world. Since 1980, the population of African elephants has fallen from 1.3 million to 415,000.

The trade in illegal animal products is huge; it’s the fourth-largest category of illegal activity in terms of money generated. This trade is vast and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down, with a 2016 white paper arguing that poaching and smuggling will now rise annually at a rate of five to seven per cent. This comes at a time when elephant populations are expected to decrease annually by over eight per cent.

One of the reasons Canada cites for not banning all ivory is concerns about our legal trade in narwhal and walrus ivory from populations in Canada’s north. However this ivory trade is much different than the trade in elephant sourced ivory, and is not considered a threat to the continued existence of the narwhal population. Furthermore this trade has long-standing cultural roots in both Greenland and the Canadian Arctic.

Narwhal ivory is a weak excuse. There are ways to differentiate between types of ivory, many of which are so simple that even someone with no scientific background can understand (it’s me, the author). Rather than holding onto our weak excuse for not banning elephant ivory we should invest in detection services and inspections to ensure that ivory imported into Canada comes from more sustainable sources and species that aren’t threatened.

All of this tells us that there is no strong reason to not ban the import of elephant ivory. Banning elephant ivory is a matter of environmental conservation, preserving vulnerable populations of elephants. Implementing a ban would also help to reduce the power and wealth of international crime groups that traffic in the smuggling and poaching of ivory. Are we so committed to ivory that we can’t see these benefits?