The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) has urged the DC Council to enact a proposed bill seeking to stop trade in ivory and rhino horn.
The Council is currently considering a draft Elephant Ivory and Rhinoceros Horn Trafficking Prohibition bill that will outlaw the importation, sale, purchase, barter or possession with intent to sell ivory and rhino horn products.
This comes barely a year after a study by the National Geographic described Washington DC as the new hub for ivory trade.
AWF chief scientist and VP of Species Protection, Philip Muruthi termed the move timely, saying the long-term survival of the elephant and rhino is in question across Africa.
He attributed this to soaring demand for wildlife products that is emptying forests and savannahs of key species — elephants, rhinos, and the big cats among other signature wildlife.
Dr Muruthi said passing the law would send a clear message that the District will not tolerate trade in wildlife products that threatens Africa’s wildlife.
He added: “The availability of ivory in stores acquired from naturally deceased elephants or from confiscated ivory has direct linkages to growing demand, thus enabling the illegal trade in wildlife products.
“The African elephant is important as a cultural and political symbol in many African countries and plays a critical role in the ecosystem as a keystone species and in the economy as a tourist attraction. It must be protected.”
An estimated 96 African elephants are killed every day by poachers for their ivory. This translates to an elephant being killed every 15 minutes.
The Great Elephant Census released in September 2016 revealed a 30 per cent decline in Africa’s savanna elephant population between 2007 and 2014.
Poaching was identified as the predominant cause of this dramatic loss. Additionally, more than 20 tonnes of poached elephant ivory, prized as “white gold” in parts of Asia and China, as well as the United States, was seized globally in 2016.
“If we do not stop the demand for ivory, we will witness the extinction of elephants in a few decades. The announcement by DC Council is a good gesture to ending illegal wildlife trade and protecting these iconic species, and we urge other online ivory retailers to follow suit,” said Dr Muruthi.
AWF urges the DC Council and the larger Washington jurisdiction to ban ivory and rhino horn trade and pushes those with ivory stockpiles and antiques to destroy them as a message to the market that there is no future in ivory trade.