Washington, DC - Domestic ivory markets in three key ivory trading countries in West Africa remain unregulated, subverting international trade controls and leading to the illegal killing of elephants, according to a new report launched today by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network of World Wildlife Fund (WWF). National attempts to control the ivory trade in Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Senegal have been short-lived and have failed. The new report calls for improved legislation and enforcement, as West Africa's ivory markets continue to pose serious challenges to the conservation of elephants throughout the African continent.
TRAFFIC investigators conducted field surveys in nine cities in Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Senegal last year and found more than 8,800 pounds of ivory on public display -- a quantity that represents the ivory of more than 760 elephants. According to recent data from the World Conservation Union (IUCN), there may be fewer than 550 elephants in these countries.
"These surveys show just a snapshot of the problem," said Tom Milliken, director of TRAFFIC East/Southern Africa and coauthor of the report. "When we factor in all of the uncontrolled manufacturing, buying and selling over a year, these numbers climb to frightening dimensions."
The TRAFFIC report, More Ivory than Elephants: Domestic Ivory Markets in Three West African Countries, states that these unregulated markets are the principal forces driving elephant poaching. Much of the ivory found on sale comes from the war torn Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Central African Republic and Gabon. These countries make up Africa's most troubled region for elephant conservation. The principal buyers of this ivory are expatriates, tourists, business people and even diplomatic staff from the United States, Europe (France and Italy), and the Far East (China and Korea).
The report also found that inadequate legislation and poor law enforcement in Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Senegal are threatening the survival of elephants in these countries and Central Africa. All three governments are in breach of international ivory market control requirements established by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The report notes that wildlife authorities responsible for implementing CITES in Nigeria, Senegal and the Ivory Coast are systematically barred from the ports of entry and exit in these countries.
According to the report, the situation in Nigeria is the most alarming, with higher volumes of ivory identified than in a previous undercover survey carried out in 1999. This country is already facing possible sanctions under CITES because of its failure to control the ivory trade. If Nigeria does not comply with CITES requirements to regulate internal trade in ivory by March 2004, all legal trade in CITES-listed wildlife species could be suspended.
"This new TRAFFIC report makes it very clear that if we want to control ivory trade, we must control it in the national markets," said Simon Habel, director of TRAFFIC North America. "Only if the governments in Nigeria, Senegal and the Ivory Coast take urgent action will we be able to bring ivory trade under control in these countries and truly protect elephants throughout Africa."