[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 September 2005, 15:00 GMT 16:00 UK
Europe is 'fuelling ivory trade'
By Zoe Murphy
BBC News

Shop window in Paris (Copyright Daniel Stiles)
Recently crafted ivory jewellery can be found with relative ease in Paris
Europe's thriving ivory retail market is threatening an increase in elephant poaching, conservationists have warned.

More than 27,000 ivory products were found on sale in five major European countries where investigators went: the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain.

Global conservation groups Care for the Wild and Save the Elephants say an active ivory market spurs poachers on.

Elephant populations in Africa were halved in the 1980s, after more than 500,000 animals were slaughtered.

Although the ivory trade has shrunk in Europe since the 1989 ban passed by the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), the groups' investigators found a worrying number of artefacts on sale.

We mustn't forget that every item represents a dead elephant
Barbara Maas, Care for the Wild
German and UK markets now rival East Asian giants such as China and Japan, they claim.

Their report also warned that all ivory, even if legally sourced, contributed to the slaughter of elephants.

Care for the Wild's chief executive, Barbara Maas, said the trade in Europe was predominantly in old ivory.

"Although technically legal, we mustn't forget that every item represents a dead elephant."

Poor record

Co-author of the report, Dr Esmond Martin, said he was shocked at the scale of the UK's ivory market, which was believed to be relatively small.

Despite having one of the harshest penalties in Europe for trading illegal ivory, he found that the UK had the poorest law enforcement record of the countries surveyed.

Magnifying glasses at Portobello Road Antiques Market (Copyright Esmond Martin)
More than 40% of London's ivory items are sold at Portobello Road
Dr Martin also found that many dealers did not bother with the mandatory EU and Cites documentation, claiming it was too much red tape.

Illegal ivory out of Africa is now bypassing Europe and being shipped to East Asia where high demand is inflating prices, according to the report authors.

China has an unregulated ivory market and they warned that unless something is done to control demand, nothing would change in Africa.

Iain Douglas-Hamilton, head of Save the Elephants, said that in unstable countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic, the demand was fuelling "a poaching holocaust".

Mammoth problem

As Europe's legal ivory stocks dwindle, some craftsmen are using mammoth tusks as a substitute. The tusk is brittle and discoloured but prized by collectors.

Another co-author of the report, Dr Dan Stiles, said that in north-east Siberia the permafrost was melting as a result of climate change and exposing large numbers of mammoth remains.

African elephant
Elephant herds were decimated before the ivory trade was banned
"There is no way of quantifying stockpiles but we found 3,424 mammoth ivory pieces in Germany and France alone," he said.

The mammoth is an extinct species and requires no documentation for trading - a fact already being exploited.

In order to disguise items carved from the ivory of recently killed elephants, some retailers are said to be colouring it - passing it off as mammoth ivory.

Dr Martin said: "Illegal products are coming in that are being mixed up with the antique stuff.

"People don't know whether what they are buying has come from poached elephants."


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific