Talking Point: does destroying ivory save elephants?

Talking Point: does destroying ivory save elephants?

Prince William recently revealed he’d like to see all the antique ivory (1,200 artefacts) owned by Buckingham Palace destroyed to deter the ruthless trade in slaughtering elephants for their tusks. He is said to believe the destruction would send a message to poachers that the ivory trade is deeply immoral.

His views are applauded by conservationists, but many art lovers and historians, among them Antiques Roadshow expert David Battie, strongly disagree. They argue that generations need to learn about ancient cultures through their works of art and that destroying historic ivory will not help to preserve the elephant.

What is not in dispute is that around 30,000 elephants are being killed for their ivory every year. In Africa an elephant dies every 15 minutes, hunted down by criminal syndicates. Some species could be extinct in the wild in decades.

The biggest market is China where, while it is illegal to supply raw ivory, there is a legal domestic ivory market. But there is no consensus, even among wildlife organisations, as to whether destroying seized ivory or historic artefacts makes a difference. As long as there is a market for ivory, the debate will continue.

Against destruction:

  • Some countries, including the US, France and even China, have been destroying ivory since 1989, but it hasn’t made any difference. In fact, poaching has increased.
  • The destruction of seized ivory sends the price for raw ivory higher, making it even more attractive to poachers. The well-meant efforts of  conservationists are having the opposite of their intended effect.
  • Because it is illegal to supply raw ivory but legal to have a domestic ivory market, ivory workshop owners in China and Thailand are buying all they can before stockpiles are destroyed, further fuelling the trade.

For destruction:

  • Many people feel uncomfortable owning ivory items but don’t want to put them on the market. The International Fund for Animal Welfare suggests that a UK ivory surrender would be a way forward.
  • Some African countries, such as Kenya and Gabon, destroy ivory shown to have been poached from their countries. By destroying our own stockpiles the UK would show solidarity with African and Asian countries fighting against poaching.
  • Works of art aren’t as important as an endangered wildlife species and we must do everything in our power to save the elephant before it is too late.
Buy the latest issue of Yours now (#202: Sep 16, 2014) to read our interview with Dame Daphne Sheldrick and her daughter Angela, world-renowned elephant and African wildlife conservationists.