Ivory Continues To Be Trafficked Illegally Across The EU Despite New Strict Regulations

New research reveals that substantial amounts of ivory continue to be traded illegally across the European Union (EU) despite stricter rules adopted two years ago.

Data from online marketplaces across France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Germany in 2023 was examined in a report published last week by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) entitled The Elephant in the Net: Research snapshot of the online ivory trade after the adoption of the new EU rules. Researchers identified 1,330 ivory and suspected ivory items recorded for sale via 831 advertisements across 49 online marketplaces and auction house websites.

Less than 10% of all the adverts provided verifiable evidence of legality – such as a certificate number or picture. A total lack of evidence for raw elephant ivory sales, for which the rules are the strictest, is concerning.

“With results like this and given the strict exceptions still allowing legal trade in the EU upon presentation of certificates, it is extremely likely that much of the ivory recorded is illegally advertised for sale online,” said Ilaria Di Silvestre, IFAW’s Head of EU Policy and Campaigns. “The latest EU rules on ivory trade represented an important step forward, but our study highlights their loopholes as well as their weak implementation and monitoring. We must have additional and coordinated efforts from all stakeholders to ensure the EU is not contributing to the global impact of elephant poaching and ivory trafficking.”

The study evaluated the quantity of ivory and suspected ivory from relevant species—including elephant, hippo, walrus, whale, narwhal, and dugong—two years after the publication of the EU’s new rules on ivory trade. Advertisements for elephant ivory and suspected elephant ivory far outnumbered those from other ivory-bearing species.

In 2017, the European Commission adopted the first version of guidelines to suspend the re-export of raw ivory. In December 2021, the Commission published a revised guidance and amendments to Regulation (EC) No 865/2006 which effectively banned most forms of trade in elephant ivory from January 2022. These rules apply to ivory from both African and Asian elephant populations.

These measures followed commitments made in the EU Wildlife Trafficking Action Plan – EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, and a public consultation that showed 90% of the 90,000 respondents supported an EU ban on the ivory trade.

As a result of the new rules, commercial intra-EU trade in raw and worked ivory items and the import and re-export of worked ivory items are no longer permitted, except for very limited cases that require scrutiny and certificates or permits issued by relevant authorities. However, most of these rules are not legally binding, and individual Member States must make the effort to implement them.

IFAW conducted a similar study which analyzed the quantity of ivory being sold on online platforms and social media in the UK, before and after the new UK Ivory Act came into force.

“The UK results suggest that the legally binding rules in the UK had a positive impact. In the EU, the many exceptions in the new rules and the absence of a clear and legally binding ban create loopholes,” warned Di Silvestre. “The trade is still happening here, and enforcement online is further complicated by the technicalities, such as claiming proof of legality.”

Di Silvestre added, “We strongly urge the European Commission and all Member States to commit to a dedicated monitoring mechanism in order to assess the appropriate implementation of the revised EU Guidance and legislation while addressing shortcomings and ensuring enforcement.”

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