VOICES Voices Icon Ideas and Insight From Explorers

Menu

CITES and confiscated elephant ivory and rhino horn – to destroy or not destroy?

Over the past 24 months we have seen a number of countries, including Belgium, Chad, China, Hong Kong SAR, China, Czech Republic, Gabon, France, Philippines, and the USA, destroy stockpiles of illegally traded elephant ivory and rhino horn that have been seized and confiscated.

I have been invited by national CITES authorities to witness several of these events and was able to accept the invitation on three occasions, namely for events held in China, in Dongguan and Hong Kong SAR, and most recently one at the Dvůr Králové Zoo, Czech Republic.  My statements made at these events are all publicly available.

Dongguan Ivory Crush-NG
Destruction of confiscated ivory in Dongguan, China on 6 January 2014

These events, and on occasion my personal participation in them, attract a significant amount of commentary both in favour of, and against, destroying confiscated elephant ivory and rhino horn.  Two examples of comments posted on our Facebook page after the recent Czech Republic event to destroy rhino horn illustrate the point:

– This is the most stupid event John Scanlon has been involved in…. obviously he is being led by others outside of CITES…

– Great action, thank all for doing this very much! The world need more action like this!

Burning of confiscated rhino horn at the Dvůr Králové Zoo, Czech Republic on 21 September 2014

So where do I, as Secretary-General, stand on the issue of whether to destroy or not to destroy confiscated elephant ivory and rhino horn?  The starting point for the Secretariat in considering any CITES  issue is the Convention text and the Decisions and  Resolutions  adopted by the Parties to CITES. They bind the CITES Secretariat,  including myself, and we adhere strictly to them.  We are also  mandated (under Article XII of the Convention) to present  suggestions to the Parties where we deem it necessary.

CoP16NG
16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES held in Bangkok, Thailand 3-14 March 2013

So, what then is the position of CITES Parties – the 180 States that have joined the Convention, on the issue of whether to destroy or not destroy confiscated elephant ivory and rhino horn?  The answer lies in a Resolution (Resolution Conf. 9.10 (Rev. CoP15), adopted by CITES Parties in 1994, and updated in 2010, which recommends that:

Parties dispose of confiscated and accumulated dead specimens of Appendix-I species, including parts and derivatives, only for bona fide scientific, educational, enforcement or identification purposes, and save in storage or destroy specimens whose disposal for these purposes is not practicable;

This Resolution, like all others, provides interpretive guidance on the legally-binding text of the Convention. However, the language used in this Resolution may not be all that clear to people who are not familiar with CITES terminology.  So what does it mean in plain English?  ‘Specimens’ is the language used in the Convention to refer to the plant or animal, or part thereof, or any derivative (such as a manufactured product) that is in trade and it is defined in the Convention text.  Hence, in the context of this issue, the reference in the Resolution to ‘dead specimens of Appendix-I species, including parts and derivatives’ is referring to the elephant ivory and rhino horn. (Another Resolution (Resolution Conf. 10.7 (Rev. CoP15) deals extensively with the confiscation of live animals and plants.)

The Resolution treats Appendix-I specimens very differently from those of species in Appendices II and III. The reason for doing so is because specimens of Appendix-I species generally cannot enter commercial trade, whereas Appendix-II and -III specimens can be commercially traded if certain preconditions are met. The Resolution does allow for the commercial sale of confiscated Appendix‑II and -III specimens under certain conditions, if the country chooses to do so.

This Resolution is consistent with the Convention text, including on Appendix-I specimens not (re)entering commercial trade.  The guidance provided by the Resolution is that the illegally traded and confiscated elephant ivory and rhino horn should be restricted to four uses only, namely, ‘bona fide scientific, educational, enforcement or identification purposes’.  Where this is not practicable, two options are provided by the Resolution, namely to save the specimens in storage or to destroy them.

Confiscated elephant ivory on display at the Endangered Species Resource Centre in Hong Kong SAR, China

As Secretary-General, I do not encourage or discourage countries (as States Parties to CITES) to choose one option or the other.  This is a matter for each country to determine for itself.

However, when a country takes a decision to publicly destroy its confiscated stockpiles of elephant ivory or rhino horn, I do believe it presents a unique opportunity to draw public attention to the scale, nature and impacts of the serious crimes that lie behind these confiscations and to act as a deterrent to illegal trade – and that is why I participate in such events where I can.

In this context, it is worth noting that the Resolution goes on to recommend that:

Parties publicize information on seizures and confiscations when appropriate as a deterrent to illegal trade, and inform the public about their procedures for dealing with seized and confiscated specimens…;

The events in Dongguan, Hong Kong SAR, and at the Dvůr Králové Zoo all attracted massive media attention.  Each event saw the country concerned publicly express its determination to bring the illegal trade to an end and provided the opportunity to send out a clear message that people who invest in this contraband face an ever increasing risk of detection and serious punishment.

14168178736_6bd463ce0d_o
Media attending first destruction of confiscated elephant ivory in Hong Kong SAR, China on 15 May 2014

While the destruction of confiscated elephant ivory or rhino horn will not in itself stop the illegal trade in elephant ivory or rhino horn, when coupled with rigorous and consistent enforcement measures, it can serve as a deterrent to people from engaging in these illicit activities.

John E. Scanlon is the Secretary-General of CITES

—–

Note: While not all African elephants and rhino populations are included in Appendix I, the annotations associated with those populations included in Appendix II effectively place the tusks and the horns under Appendix I (other than any trade in hunting trophies for non-commercial purposes). A full explanation can be found in the CITES Appendices. In the source countries of the African elephant referred to above, stockpiles of ivory accumulated from natural deaths may also have been destroyed. 

Comments

  1. mike ditka jersey
    http://chicagobears-jersey.com/29-mike-ditka-jersey
    December 24, 2015, 9:11 am

    How supplements elevated in reputation

  2. Janeiro Avelino
    Mozambique
    July 7, 2015, 3:06 am

    Could you please explain or share a link on step by step procedures for destruction?

  3. Alejandro Nadal
    Mexico City Mexico
    October 31, 2014, 1:32 pm

    Moyle is not reading carefully. I wrote that the paper by Mason et al does NOT contain a dynamic model. How can he miss that?
    I would like to remind ‘t Sas-Rolfes that conservationists are sophisticated and perfectly able to read and understand a clearly specified dynamic model. Also, his assertion that the paper in Pachyderm demonstrates stockpile destruction runs counter to the precautionary principle remains an empty proposition in the absence of a serious analysis of that principle.

  4. Robert Hepworth
    UK
    October 30, 2014, 9:40 am

    The self-styled sustainable traders are setting up a straw man. No one on the protectionist side of the argument claims that stockpile destructions will on their own halt the ivory trade. They are one part of a concerted policy which requires several elements in order to succeed eg : effective enforcement in African range states to protect elephants (perhaps financed through habitat and species management plans financed by stockpile destruction – examples emerging) stronger laws and enforcement in consumer countries to close down carving industries and ivory markets (which is a work in progress via CITES channels); closing CITES loopholes created by the application of the Pre-Convention and personal effects (recent US laws are an exemplar but others especially EU lag behind) ;
    systematic education in consumer countries ( long way to go here but destructions can be an element of this) etc.

    There is no silver bullet. However as I know from my personal experience as a former Chair of CITES Standing Committee and Head of CMS, we have since 1997 tested the option of allowing controlled trade in ivory, almost to destruction as hundreds of thousands of African elephants have been illegally killed for ivory in the last 17 years with major reductions in wild population levels. When the facts change, it is usually necessary to change your mind. The advocates of trade seem blinkered in the extreme. Professor Nadal’s recent papers also seem to show that the economic arguments which underpin the pro-traders are seriously flawed – and have not been challenged earlier because , quite understandably, the majority of people engaged on elephant conservation do not share his sophisticated and well-founded understanding of environmental economics.

    I would also like to commend the CITES SG for attending the stockpile destructions – they are an entirely legitimate tool under the Convention and were given further recognition in a decision taken by the CITES Parties at the Standing Committee in July this year.

    Robert Hepworth
    Former Chair, CITES Standing Committee ( 1997 -2000)
    Former Execuive Secretary, Convention on Migratory Species (2004-9)
    Senior Adviser, David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

  5. Marco Pani
    Italy
    October 30, 2014, 7:00 am

    I have served for several years in the CITES Secretariat and I am involved in CITES issues since 1989.

    The argumentation of the CITES Secretary-General in favour of the destruction of ivory stocks is essentially based on an interpretation first of Resolution Conf 9.10 (Rev. CoP15), i.e. adopted in 1994 and revised for the last time in 2010, and second of the listing of the African elephant on the CITES Appendices. To say the least, his interpretation of both is
    dismaying and I was flabbergasted in particular by that of the listing.

    The practicability of the use of confiscated stock for educational, scientific or enforcement purposes has never been really pursued on a significant scale. Why do not try it before jumping to destruction? Because it is difficult and does not attract media attention? It could nevertheless generate important resources for developing countries, which are in
    desperate need to pay their conservation activities.

    The CITES SG should be more devoted to real conservation and less to media attention.

    The fact that the CITES SG is also calling for destruction of LEGALLY owned stocks is very worrying.

    This is not within the mandate of CITES but of individual sovereign States. If they could be useful to pay for very expensive conservation activities why not to use them?

    Western politicians are desperate for visibility, media coverage, and correctness. Certain NGO’s are offering it to them on a golden platter. Many claim that destroying ivory stockpiles deters poachers and smugglers, but there is no evidence to justify these claims.

    Police and law enforcement agencies around the world are incinerating huge amounts of drugs and narcotics on a nearly daily basis. Has the narcotics smuggling and trafficking decreased thanks to these destructions? No.

    We will fail to save the African elephant unless there is a greater presence of local communities in conservation policy-making forums. This would have an incredibly positive effect on the conservation of all wildlife, elephants included.

    Decision-making mechanisms need to take into account the needs of people sharing the land and obtaining their livelihoods from wildlife. Human welfare is, in fact, is the only solution to conservation. The solution for this complex issue lies with local communities and indigenous people worldwide, not keyboard activists.

    If we want wild elephants, we must put our ideology aside and listen to the African people for the solutions they want to implement. Solutions can only be driven by Africa, not imported, imposed, bought, or driven by politics.

    • John E. Scanlon
      October 30, 2014, 8:54 am

      Thank you for your comment. Your comment does not accurately reflect the content of the blog itself, which you may wish to reread. The blog addresses the destruction of confiscated elephant ivory and rhino horn in the context of CITES Resolutions. It does not address the issue of stockpiles that accrue in source countries. As regards the destruction of confiscated elephant ivory and rhino horn, the blog states: “As Secretary-General, I do not encourage or discourage countries (as States Parties to CITES) to choose one option or the other. This is a matter for each country to determine for itself.” Thank you.

  6. Dex Kotze
    South Africa
    October 30, 2014, 6:45 am

    With regards to witnessing the destruction in Hong Kong: It was widely reported that 28 tons of confiscated would be destroyed over 1 to 2 years. Only 1.5 tons were destroyed on 15 May this year. Nearly 6 months since then have lapsed and nowhere has it been reported of any further destructions. Perhaps Mr. Scanlon can shed some light on a time frame of destruction of the balance of over 26 tons that Hong Kong holds.

  7. Michael 't Sas-Rolfes
    South Africa
    October 30, 2014, 12:40 am

    In response to the comments by Nadal, below:

    Our paper in Pachyderm does not pretend to present a specific dynamic model of the ivory market, nor does it need to interrogate the details of the precautionary principle, the essence of which we believe to be sufficiently clear. We merely review existing literature relating to the economics of the ivory trade and the issue of stockpile management and add some recent empirical observations that we believe to be relevant.

    As authors, we are deeply committed conservationists, who share some very real concerns about the potential consequences of large-scale ivory stockpile destructions that are being advocated by various conservation NGOs. We are concerned that this approach could backfire and result in even greater losses of wild elephants. Both the economic literature and our recent empirical observations suggest that more research is needed before pursuing this route too vigorously. In particular, we believe that there should be closer monitoring of the possible effects of the current round of destructions on illegal ivory prices in end user markets and on poaching levels as reported by MIKE. We see very little evidence of this happening.

    If we had wanted to present an intricate new dynamic model of the ivory market, we would have chosen a resource economics journal, not Pachyderm, to publish our work. Our target audience here is fellow conservationists, not academic economists – this is also why we have tried to keep the language and technical details as simple as possible, thereby unfortunately inviting inappropriate comments about ‘textbook economics’.

    Since Nadal clearly has a newly found interest in this topic, I invite him to present us with a credible dynamic model of the ivory market in the peer-reviewed economic literature, accompanied by his own carefully considered justification of why ivory stockpile destruction is a sensible elephant conservation policy. It would certainly be useful to have that added insight.

  8. Brendan Moyle
    New Zealand
    October 29, 2014, 8:36 pm

    I am afraid I need to remind Dr Nadal that his original assertion was that the Pachyderm paper was based on static models. Now that we have agreement that papers like Mason’s were discussed and these are dynamic, he has refuted his own claims.

    I am disappointed Dr Nadal has also not substantiated any of his other claims nor addressed our questions. Does he think risking an increase in poaching by- potentially- raising the perceived value of criminal stockpiles to actually be precautionary? Is he satisfied that a policy coincident with the killing of 100,000 elephants and a tripling of raw ivory prices is meeting its aims?

    Two of the authors of the Pachyderm paper are active field researchers on the topic of ivory markets. There are publications to back this. Details of ivory markets are being patiently discovered. These- such as links between investment-sized illegal shipments and interest rates- are in accordance with speculative criminal behaviour. Gambling elephant lives on a policy that turns a blind eye to this dimension is not consistent with the precautionary principle. That we balk at this stockpile destruction before we have a better understanding of these black markets is a reflection of our concern for elephants. I hope people who share this concern can see the risks too.

  9. Alejandro Nadal
    Mexico City Mexico
    October 29, 2014, 4:38 pm

    Two points. First, the paper by ‘t Sas-Rolfes, Moyle and Stiles published in Pachyderm does not present a dynamic model of the ivory market. Second, the paper by Mason et al (2012) does not contain a dynamic model of the ivory market. The model in Mason et al is designed to identify and solve the optimal strategy of a class of agents (speculators), not to describe the dynamics of an abstract ivory market. This should be fairly straightforward to anyone using these models.

  10. Brendan Moyle
    New Zealand
    October 27, 2014, 9:45 pm

    It only suffices to read the Pachyderm paper of ‘t Sas-Rolfes to realise Dr Nadal’s claims are erroneous. For instance, the Mason et al. paper included in the review, is *dynamic* in its nature and described as such.
    Cf. “Mason et al. (2012) again highlight that stockpile accumulation is a forward-looking strategic issue subject to manipulation by speculators”. It is not a unique example.

    There is no better refutation to Nadal’s assertions than the paper itself.

  11. Alejandro Nadal
    Mexico City, Mexico
    October 27, 2014, 4:06 pm

    There is nothing resembling a dynamic model depicting changes in the structure of an ivory market in the paper published in Pachyderm. As for the assertion that the paper demonstrates that stockpile destruction runs counter to the precautionary principle, that paper does not contain a discussion of the said principle. If this critique causes headaches to those nostalgic of the days when discussions on wildlife trade were based on the simple parables of textbook economics, it is important to remember that economic analysis was not designed to make life easy.

  12. Daniel Stiles
    Kenya
    October 27, 2014, 8:42 am

    I see Nadal continues to avoid offering anything positive or replying to the central question and just heaps on more negative comments. He states that neither ‘t Sas-Rolfes or I “have any information on price formation processes and transfer of profitability along the value chain of the ivory trade”, thus we can’t legitimately predict the outcome of stockpile destructions. That, Dr. Nadal, is precisely why we invoked the precautionary principle. Thank you for making our case for us. We said only that in the absence of full knowledge of the markets, the precautionary principle was justified in the case of stockpile destructions, “because the outcome is unknown”. We did not state that it would cause prices to rise. We also “recommend that research be carried out to understand better the dynamics of the current legal and illegal ivory trade systems in order to formulate evidence-based policy.” You really should read our Pachyderm paper so that you can make accurate comments on it.

  13. Brendan Moyle
    New Zealand
    October 25, 2014, 8:35 pm

    I am afraid I have been unable to identify Nadal’s solutions in the response to Stiles. I (and presumably others) would like to see these elaborated. Perhaps he could be so kind enough to do so here, as his preference for blog entries over journal papers is now obvious.

    The assertion that simplistic, static demand and supply models are used by ‘t Sas-Rolfes is self-refuting. All anyone has to do is read the ‘t Sas-Rolfes paper. Many of the referenced models are dynamic. Not only do I encourage people to read this paper, I’d encourage Nadal to do so also. Because he has now shown, he has not properly read the paper.

    My interest has also been piqued on the subject of the precautionary principle. I helped compose the IUCN precautionary principle guidelines on biodiversity in 2004-5.

    The precautionary principle applies in situations of uncertainty and this is what ‘t Sas-Rolfes describes. I would imagine anyone familiar with the principle would have recognised the underlying theme, without needing a word count of ‘precautionary principle’ as their metric.

    Could Nadal explain why a strategy that risks raising criminal perceptions of ivory scarcity, would not lead to an increase in poaching and thus, not violate the precautionary principle? Could he identify for us any existing evidence or the research he has done that shows previous stockpile destructions did reduce poaching? Since July 2011, when the this round of stockpile destructions began, raw ivory price in China has tripled and an estimated 100,000 elephants have been killed. Does that suggest a successful policy?

  14. Kirsten Conrad
    Singapore
    October 25, 2014, 3:53 am

    Since 2005 I have undertaken regular field work in China on the domestic legal and illegal wildlife markets. Recently this work has focused on ivory. As such, I am interested in the exchanges on Nat Geo and other forums. It is perplexing to see posts which stray from fruitful discussion concerning our common goal of stopping the killing of wild elephants.

    Discussion can be constructive when ideas and positions are supported by sound reasoning, and are grounded in facts and the established body of knowledge. Ideally, this would take place in peer-reviewed journals. When papers are vetted by experts in the discipline, the reader can have some assurance that the work is solid. Whether or not he or she agrees with it is a different matter.

    When comments seek to discredit others by making sweeping assertions on the quality of research, pointing out negatives instead of engaging in constructive criticism, and failing to offer up alternative solutions, one has to question what is behind them. This is common in debates over wildlife policy which attracts concerned parties from diverse backgrounds, with varying areas of expertise and levels of understanding.
    Nevertheless, there is a new and disturbing aspect to recent comments. According to the IUCN website, the IUCN is “a neutral forum for governments, NGOs, scientists, business and local communities to find practical solutions to conservation and development challenges”.

    Frankly, I am bewildered by recent posts by the chair of an IUCN working group. Surely such an institutional position is better served by genuine engagement of the different constituencies, with an eye towards the rigorous analysis championed by the said working group?

    Let’s engage in honest, fruitful, and respectful discussions, to the betterment of an objective we all share.

  15. Diane M Rutherford
    Oak Ridge, Tennessee
    October 24, 2014, 7:26 am

    We call ourselves civilized, yet we, the human race, allow the brutal slaughter of these majestic animals. It is time to step up and ban ALL ivory trade and eliminate any loopholes that policy makers are so adept at creating. Enforcement and education is critical. The ivory should be burned and a memorial to the lives of those beautiful animals should be created or at the very least their ashes scattered in their homelands. We must do the right thing, and we must be their voice. Their survival depends on us – not only now but for the future as well. The US and China should lead the way so that others will follow.

  16. Karl Ammann
    Kenya
    October 24, 2014, 4:31 am

    In reply to John E. Scanlon comment on October 21, 6:23 am

    Any feedback from the CITES Secretariat generally requires digging deeper. Of the Parties listed that are suspended from trade or recommended for suspension, there only seems to be Guinea Conakry which has been suspended for NONE COMPLIANCE AND ENFORCEMENT issues. Action taken against almost all other Parties has been for administrative shortcomings – not filing trade returns for years in a row, or not bringing their national legislation up to date. 26 countries are banned from aspects of the trade as a result of ‘significant trade’ criteria where certain species have been traded in large quantities requiring some precautionary restrictions. DR Congo has a narrow trade suspension covering Leopard tortoises and Cape parrots while it has one of the biggest illegal ivory markets in Africa which has been operating for decades. DRC has also been exposed committing a wide range of permit frauds and has hundreds of missing permits. Guinea was eventually suspended from COMMERCIAL TRADE in 2013 for a wide range of similar infractions. However it was not suspended from ALL trade and as such can still export species as long as they are not listed with the purpose code T, for trade. Guinea’s suspension came as a result of a large scale misuse and falsification of permits with the purpose code Z – CITES I listed species going to zoos – and as such the commercial trade was not an issue in the first place. This makes a mockery of the punishment meted out by CITES. Sticking with wildlife terminology, CITES is for me a tiger without teeth and without bite.

  17. benedict
    kenya
    October 24, 2014, 2:35 am

    i support the destruction of all ivory and rhino horns..but all the member states should be clear and transparent when contacting the process..kenya is loosing its elephants and rhino at a alarming rate and the international community and trities must end this..china, US, Philippines, vietinam, korea etc must stop this trade immediately. i fear my kids will not see this wonderful and beautiful animals..

  18. Lori Evans
    Washington State, USA
    October 23, 2014, 11:35 pm

    The world must end the use of all ivory. Slaughter and extinction is NOT an option. Destroy all stocks of ivory. Send a unified, strong message to the world. Ending the use of ivory, ends the illegal poaching, ivory trade and worship, destruction of a species and the environment as well as deter and lessen the grip terrorists have around the globe. Do not aid and abet evil. Please. What you do can have a world wide impact.

  19. Alejandro Nadal
    Mexico City, Mexico
    October 23, 2014, 7:40 pm

    Stiles asks for comments to ‘t Sas-Rolfes’s assertion questioning the idea that destroying ivory stockpiles will prevent poaching. Two comments are relevant. First, the only thing ‘t Sas-Rolfes has in his analytical toolbox is a reference to textbook supply and demand curves in a static, partial equilibrium context. Neither Stiles nor ‘t Sas-Rolfes have any information on price formation processes and transfer of profitability along the value chain of the ivory trade. In complete ignorance about market structures and dynamics, the claim that destroying stockpiles is detrimental to elephant populations because ivory prices will increase is a groundless statement. And yes, this is not “simply an academic issue”. Making policy recommendations requires leaving aside textbook economics.
    Second, although ‘t Sas-Rolfes invokes the precautionary principle, Dan Stiles may want to think this is a secondary point. It is not, and this is why ‘t Sas-Rolfes “strongly recommends” reading the paper in Pachyderm. The claim that destroying stockpiles contradicts the precautionary principle is a core issue in his statement. Thus it is important to insist on this: the Pachyderm paper does not discuss the precautionary principle. In fact, the only reference it makes to that principle shows the authors ignore everything about its essence and status in international law.

  20. Martin Perlmutter
    United States
    October 23, 2014, 3:12 pm

    CITES and China need to speak clearly and lead decisively now. All commerce in ivory must cease. Confiscated stocks should be destroyed, without quibble or delay. China has a chance to regain stature by taking a firm stand, enforcing an end to the carving, the selling, the smuggling and the obvious official cognizance of a global obscenity.

  21. Daniel Stiles
    Kenya
    October 23, 2014, 1:54 am

    I notice that Nadal in his comment completely avoids the central point of t’ Sas-Rolfes’ comment and the Pachyderm paper – questioning the contention that the destruction of stockpiles of long-dead elephants will somehow prevent the killing of living ones. Could he kindly provide his views on that, which is part of the subject of Mr. Scanlon’s essay? The poaching of elephants for ivory is not simply an academic economic issue, it concerns the future of wild elephants. If we don’t agree on and implement the most effective ivory trade and stockpile management policies aimed at reducing illegal elephant killing, future generations will hold us to account. Current policy is demonstrably failing. We urgently need to find one that works.

  22. Will
    long island, ny
    October 22, 2014, 11:37 pm

    If they destroy it, it creates a new demand in the market?! …also, it makes the death of every contributing animal WORTHLESS!? Each piece should be catalogued & cherished…

  23. Ryan Brunger
    United Kingdom
    October 22, 2014, 10:29 am

    I don’t think it should be destroyed. If you destroy it the animal died for no reason. Give it to zoos and museums to use for education purposes..

  24. Alejandro Nadal
    Mexico City, Mexico
    October 21, 2014, 6:07 pm

    The problem with ‘t Sas-Rolfes is that he remains unaware of the fact that every time he invokes ‘basic economics’ he is relying on assumptions that are overly simplistic or have been theoretically discredited. As for his co-authored paper in Pachyderm, he wants us to believe that he “demonstrates” that stockpile destruction violates the precautionary principle. But the paper mentions the precautionary principle twice: once in the abstract and once at the end. It contains absolutely no analysis or discussion of its essence, components and even its legal status. Let’s make this point clear: ‘t Sas-Rolfes and his co-authors do not analyze the precautionary principle in that paper. How can he claim to have ‘demonstrated’ stockpile destruction violates the precautionary principle? Is this how policy-oriented work should be carried out? And by the way, that peer-reviewed paper has many other serious flaws, including many simplistic claims based on ‘basic economics’.

  25. Wendy Damerell
    Cape Town, South Africa
    October 21, 2014, 9:01 am

    I support Will Travers, President Born Free UK. The Chinese Premier must lead the way, and end all selling of ivory and rhino horn, with strict enforcement. There must no longer remain ‘legal stocks’, in China.

  26. Michael 't Sas-Rolfes
    South Africa
    October 21, 2014, 5:18 am

    Like Will Travers, I am deeply concerned with the future of Africa and Asia’s rhinos and elephants. However, I also fear that he is oversimplifying a complex issue relating to stockpiles, which is leading him to dangerous conclusions.

    To save rhinos and elephants we need to reduce the demand for products harvested from newly poached animals. Restricting or destroying other sources of supply – such as sustainably harvested sources and animals that died a long time ago – does not reduce this demand! It merely reduces supply. These are not the same thing – in fact, they are opposites.

    Basic economics tells us that if you reduce or destroy the supply of a product without affecting the demand for it, the price of that product will most likely increase. Ivory and rhino horn poaching is driven by high and rising prices for the illegal product. Those in favour of stockpile destruction argue that it ‘sends out a message that illegal trade will not be tolerated’. Really? Where is the evidence that this works? Has it worked for illegal drugs? What if the only message you are sending out is that supplies are even scarcer than before and the resource is more valuable than before? What if stockpile destruction actually drives up prices and fuels more poaching?

    We destroy confiscated drugs because we are trying to protect consumers from harm and we don’t want the drugs to reach them. That makes sense. But destroying confiscated drugs does not stop the production of more drugs any more than destroying confiscated ivory and rhino horn stops further poaching. If the demand persists, poaching will continue.

    Trying to squash supply and demand at the same time is like turning on the heater and air conditioning at the same time when trying to cool down the room. It makes no sense. No sane economist would recommend doing this without solid evidence that supply restriction actually also directly reduces demand. And I have not seen such evidence.

    Frankly, it is deeply disturbing that such a questionable policy should be supported by an international convention such as CITES without either strong theoretical or empirical evidence to support it.

    I recently co-authored a peer-reviewed article on stockpile destruction in Pachyderm magazine, demonstrating that it violates the precautionary principle. I strongly recommend that interested parties (including John Scanlon) read the abstract and conclusion. http://www.pachydermjournal.org/index.php/pachy/article/view/347/256

    • John E. Scanlon
      October 21, 2014, 6:17 am

      Thank you for your comment. The CITES Secretariat has the article you refer to and relevant staff have read it, including myself. Thank you.

  27. Karl Ammann
    Kenya
    October 21, 2014, 4:34 am

    To me the key to this and related debates is the last sentence in the above statement by the Secretary General:

    “;when coupled with rigorous and consistent enforcement measures, it can serve as a deterrent to people from engaging in these illicit activities.”

    The problem is that there is very little in terms of rigorous and consistent enforcement in most of the key consumer countries. CITES like few other such conventions has the enforcement tool box to get the parties concerned to do more. One such tool is to suspend parties which demonstrated serious problems with compliance over and over again.
    The CITES secretariat shies away from recommending this option whenever and wherever it can and as a result the ‘high reward low risk’ aspect to trade in wildlife and wildlife products has become an incentive which goes beyond the poachers and traders at the production end but goes right up to the parties to the convention with serious governance problems and lack of political will

    • John E. Scanlon
      October 21, 2014, 6:23 am

      Thank you for your comment. Information on the 32 countries that are currently subject to a CITES Standing Committee recommendation to suspend trade is available on the CITES website. The link is provided below. Thank you.

      Countries currently subject to a recommendation to suspend trade: http://www.cites.org/eng/resources/ref/suspend.php

  28. Jany -Claude Massa
    France
    October 20, 2014, 11:04 pm

    OF COURSE CONFISCATED IVORY SHOULD BE DESTROYED.
    NO NEED TO BEAT AROUND THE BUSH.

    THESE RESOLUTIONS ALLOW FOR DESTRUCTION SO DESTROY. THIS IS THE ONLY WAY POACHING AND THE REST WILL STOP FOR GOOD.

    AND IT MUST STOP :
    ELEPHANTS ARE ENDANGERED AND SUFFERING HORRIBLE MUTILATIONS AND DEATH FOR NOTHING BUT GREED. PEOPLE ARE BEING KILLED FOR PROTECTING THEM. COME ON !
    GREED !!!!!!!!!

    NO VALUE, NO MARKET, NO EXISTENCE OF IVORY ?
    NOBODY WILL BE INTERESTED IN KILLING FOR IT ANYMORE.

    SIMPLE.

  29. Diana Ramirez
    Oklahoma
    October 20, 2014, 2:46 pm

    I have difficulty following the scientific and legal terms and description here, but I believe that any ivory which has a potential market value should be destroyed! No one should gain from the loss of these majestic animals. No one.

  30. Will Travers
    UK
    October 20, 2014, 2:04 pm

    John Scanlon is right. Despite rather technical language, CITES is clear about what should be done with confiscated specimens of illegally traded species such a elephant ivory and rhino horn. If they can’t be used for genuine research or educational purposes (which most of them cannot), they should be stored (costly and always a temptation for future trade) or destroyed. They cannot be commercially sold.

    However, more contentious is what to do with legal stocks such as the tonnes of ivory legally held in China that can be openly sold (though not exported) and which clearly provides a legitimate cover for the laundering of illegal stocks that are smuggled in.

    The crisis facing elephants across their range, the slaughter inflicted on them, the death of so many brave rangers who seek to protect them at the hands of poachers and organised criminal gangs which, evidence suggests, generate funds for militant terrorist organisations that threaten to destabilise, pillage and destroy, demands urgent and significant action.

    That is why, along with the destruction of illegal, seized ivory and rhino horn, Born Free and others are calling for the destruction of all stocks and the ending of all selling. And the Chinese Premier can lead the way, showing international leadership on this issue at a time when it is most needed.

    Such a move would enhance wildlife law enforcement, remove the parallel market for ivory, in particular, that masks the massive, subterranean illegal trade and send the clearest possible message to the international community. That no one – either legally or illegally – may in future profit from the slaughter of elephants and rhino. For if the elephant goes on our watch, by our hand, what hope have the species for which there is no campaign. They will not go out with a bang but with a whimper.

    Will Travers OBE President Born Free bornfree.org.uk