African leaders are pressing Europe to follow China’s lead by ending ivory trade

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The next target in the struggle to stamp out ivory trade and its debilitating effect on elephant populations across Africa is the European Union (EU).

A petition signed by 32 African leaders has called on the EU—the world’s largest exporter of legal ivory—to close its thriving market. Advocacy groups suggest that while ivory trade is legal within the EU, it could also be fueling poaching. “Europe has become both a destination and transit hub for illegal ivory,” says Bert Wander, campaign director of Avaaz, a global advocacy group.

In the past year, the push to curtail ivory trade has recorded some success, especially in Asia where demand has been historically high. China, the world’s largest importer of ivory, finally banned the trade in Dec. 2017 and, the following month, Hong Kong did same.

Both decisions are crucial to the future of Africa’s elephant populations as trade in China alone accounts for deaths of up to 30,000 elephants per year on the continent. Overall, elephant populations across the continent have declined: an elephant census in 2016 pegged the elephant population at just over 350,000, a sharp drop from the 1.3 million population in 1979. To survive, researchers believe elephants in Africa are migrating to safety in parks where they remain protected by strict anti-poaching laws. One of those is Chobe National Park in northern Botswana. The southern African nation has become a safe haven for elephants and now accounts for a third of the continent’s elephant population. Since 1995, the elephant population in Botswana is believed to have risen by over 30,000.

The argument to end the trade in the EU is driven by a need to totally eliminate possible destinations for poachers and merchants who continue to circumvent laws around hunting and ivory trade. “The reason the EU must close the trade is because China has closed that avenue.” Tshekedi Khama, Botswana’s environment minister says. “If we can close the main exit areas then we are going to be a lot more successful than we are.”

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