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Wessa welcomes US ivory trading ban initiative | News

The US’s increased restrictions on ivory trade has sent out a global message about the devastating impact of wildlife crime.

The Obama Administration recently announced its national strategy for combating wildlife crime, ahead of the London Conference for Illegal Wildlife Trade.

The conference brought together global leaders who discussed ways to protect the world’s animals from extinction.

The regulations included prohibiting the commercial import and export of African elephant ivory as well as restricting the resale of ivory.

The onus now falls on the importer, exporter or seller of ivory to prove that it is legal whereas before, smugglers had to be caught red-handed for any legal ramifications to ensue.

Chris Galliers, the biodiversity programme manager for the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa (Wessa) said the stance taken by the US was “very positive for all wildlife trade”.

He said that, although it would have little impact on the South African elephant populations, the regulations were a step in the right direction.

“By taking a leadership role they have spelled out clearly the real threats and risks resulting from wildlife crimes.

“Their stance on this issue is one of the biggest statements made yet by any country to say that dealing in wildlife products threatens species and ecosystems even beyond the US border, and they are not going to be tolerated,” Galliers said.

He said these included the threat to fauna and flora species, often to the point of extinction, but also the threat to the ecosystem which provides “key life support services for sustainable economies, regional stability and human health and well-being”.

“The US is recognised as a major consumer of wildlife products and therefore a tightening of laws pertaining to the trade in such products will hopefully have an impact on reducing the demand.”

Galliers said that, however, the biggest consumers of ivory products were the Asian states.

“A no-tolerance stance similar to that of the US would be most welcome. As the US states, this is a global problem which requires a global solution. We however need to be conscious of the fact that time is against us with many populations on the verge of collapse.”

Michelle Henley, the principal researcher and programme manager of Save The Elephants – South Africa, agreed.

She said global awareness was needed as well as changing the attitudes towards ivory; stricter regulations worldwide; active anti-poaching initiatives and destroying ivory stockpiles.

She said there were approximately 25 000 elephants in South Africa and, although elephant poaching had not yet reached South Africa in the same way as rhino poaching, the regulations were welcome.

“Very few elephants are killed in South Africa while more money is to be made from poaching rhinos. The situation can change rapidly, as was the case with rhino when only a few were initially poached a couple of years ago,” she said.

- Published in Independent Newspapers on 17 February 2014.

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