OTTAWA — More than 125,000 people have signed a petition asking Canada to put a stop to the sale of all elephant ivory.
Tessa Vanderkop, director of strategic relations and advocacy for Vancouver-based Elephanatics, says when the petition was launched last year the hope was to get 1,000 signatures.
“Our next target was 5,000 and then it just went nuts,” she said. “I think it says that people just do not have any kind of tolerance for this kind of thing anymore and they want governments to do the right thing.”
Last week, 95 politicians and animal rights activists from Canada and around the world signed a letter to Environment Minister Catherine McKenna repeating the petition’s request to ban all domestic trade in elephant ivory and to also make it illegal to import, export and re-export elephant ivory.
Among the signatories to the letter are a handful of politicians and animal rights groups, including Wildlife SOS India, which runs the elephant sanctuary Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family visited during their recent trip to India. Vanderkop says she does not think the ivory issue was raised with Trudeau during that visit and the operators could not be reached for comment Friday.
Currently the ban on elephant ivory in Canada affects only that from elephants killed since 1990, but Vanderkop says it is so difficult to date ivory that it is easy for people to hide more recent ivory among legal products.
“We have to close the trade period,” she says.
Canada was one of only four countries at the most recent conference of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature that objected to banning the ivory trade domestically. Japan, Namibia and South Africa also objected. Canada’s objection came at least in part because of concerns about the Inuit trade in legal narwhal and walrus ivory.
However Vanderkop says Elephanatics isn’t asking for all ivory trade to be banned, just elephant ivory, which she says can be distinguished from other types.
Internationally, elephants are among the rapidly declining species in the world, in large part because international ivory prices were high. An estimated 20,000 elephants are killed each year by poachers seeking to profit from their valuable tusks.
Since 1980, the number of elephants in Africa fell to about 415,000 from 1.3 million. The Asian elephant population has been cut in half in the last seven decades, Elephanatics says.
Several countries have or are looking at banning all domestic ivory sales, most notably China, which used to be the world’s biggest market for ivory. China announced its ban would take effect in December 2017, but as soon as that announcement was made in 2015, the price of ivory started falling, from an estimated $2,100 a kilogram before to less than $500 a kilogram now.
France banned ivory sales in 2016, Hong Kong will ban it by 2021 and Taiwan in 2020.
President Donald Trump last week quietly allowed the U.S. government to cancel a ban on importing elephant trophies like ears, feet and tails. He had given the ban a reprieve last fall while he further studied the issue, but in early March the ban was lifted.
Canada never banned elephant trophy imports. The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, database which tracks imports and exports of animals which need protection, shows that between 2007 and 2016, Canada allowed the legal importation of 83 trophy elephants, as well as 434 elephant skulls and 260 elephant feet.
A spokeswoman for McKenna would not say if Canada is even considering a domestic ban on elephant ivory. Caroline Theriault said Canada is part of CITES which ensures trade doesn’t threaten the survival of species.
“We have in place legislation which implements the convention in Canada that includes penalties for illegal possession, trade, or commercial sale of restricted plant and wildlife items,” she said. “We’ll continue to work to advance conservation benefits for species around the globe that are impacted by trade.”