The Complex Policy Issue Of Elephant Ivory Stockpile Management
December 2014, Volume 12-6

This paper was published in Pachyderm, the Journal of the African Elephant, African Rhino and Asian Rhino Specialist Groups No 55 (2014) January – June 2014. Pachyderm publishes papers and notes concerning all aspects of the African elephant, the African rhino and the Asian rhino with a focus on the conservation and management of these species in the wild. At the same time, the journal is a platform for disseminating information concerning the activities of the African Elephant, the African Rhino, and the Asian Rhino Specialist Groups of the IUCN Species Survival Commission.

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Recent elephant poaching levels are a serious concern for conservationists. Opinions differ over how to deal with the upsurge and associated illegal ivory trade. Following the CITES-imposed international trade ban voted in 1989, limited legal trade has been permitted in two one-off sales. Opinions are divided on what effect this has had on poaching. Opinions are now also divided over whether trade in ivory products should be outlawed worldwide, both between and within countries. In the midst of this debate is the question of what government agencies should do with existing stockpiles of collected legal and confiscated illegal ivory. Governments of some countries have destroyed their stockpiles with the claimed intent of reducing poaching, and there are calls for others to follow suit. We review the academic literature and available relevant data and find that under current circumstances, stockpile destruction violates the precautionary principle because the outcome is unknown; it is therefore not recommended. Credible evidence suggests that speculation may drive the current high poaching rates more than consumer demand for carvings. Legal stockpiles provide an option to curtail speculative behavior of criminals. We recommend that governments move closer towards consensus on a long-term vision for elephant and ivory management before undertaking measures such as large-scale stockpile destruction. In the meantime they should continue to retain existing ivory stockpiles securely to reduce incentives for criminal speculation with illegally accumulated stockpiles. We recommend that research be carried out to understand better the dynamics of the current legal and illegal ivory trade systems in order to formulate evidence-based policy.

Corresponding author Daniel Stiles email

Author: Michael ’t Sas-Rolfes, Brendan Moyle and Daniel Stiles