From the Editor: Consider the unintended consequences of banning ivory

(Nicola Kwit)

At a recent conference of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Canada was one of a measly four countries to oppose the notion of banning domestic ivory trading.

With the particular type of ivory left unspecified in the motion, Canada had cause to be concerned about harming the national Inuit narwhal and walrus ivory trade. Only Japan, Namibia, and South Africa joined them in opposing the ban.

Canada is still facing the backlash of taking this stance. While it’s reasonable to be upset about the government not only condoning but profiting from an industry based on cruelty, Canadians should also consider the collateral damage that could follow the enactment of a ban based firmly in the economy.

China recently enacted a full ban on the ivory trade, and the U.K. is expected to make an announcement soon on a comprehensive ivory ban of its own. African countries, which are the primary site of elephant poaching along with parts of Asia, have also united to push against reaping mass economic benefits from ivory. In opposition to the ban, Canada stands nearly alone.

Over 135,000 people have signed a petition from local animal rights group Elephanatics that calls for Canada to ban all domestic trade, import, export, and re-export of elephant ivory. Although Tessa Vanderkop, the director of strategic relations and advocacy for the organization, says that the original goal for the petition was to reach 1,000 signatures, it eventually gathered hundreds of thousands of supporting members rallying to put an end to the practice on Change.org.

Many people who live here would reasonably assume that, in a pat-on-the-back progressive country like Canada, our government would have already divested entirely from the ivory trade. But that’s only half-true—currently, Canada’s elephant ivory ban only applies to animals that have been killed since 1990. Unfortunately, new ivory is hard to separate from old in large shipments.

Due to this oversight, Canada is still deeply invested into an industry that ends the lives of over 20,000 elephants per year.

The call to divest has been accompanied, in small scale, by the voices of concerned economists.

Historically, the sometimes-uninformed decisions of white activists have left scars on other continents. According to a 2016 article, banning or divesting in African trophy hunting could not only damage the economy, but also the ecological diversity in the area. A piece written by The New York Times in 2015 detailed how a hunting ban in Botswana led to more animal attacks on citizens and a steep drop in the money going to poor villages and towns.

Like the Canadian representatives who turned down the ivory ban in fear of hurting Inuit communities, some are concerned about the dollar drain that will ensue if the world divests in ivory.

In areas where elephants bring in tourists, stopping poaching would be economically beneficial. According to Business Insider, killing elephants leaves Africa with $25 million less per year because it keeps wealthy tourists away. It’s the locations where tourism is not a primary source of revenue, like the forests of Central Africa, that would be hard-hit by the ban. In some of these areas, the business is already going underground and morphing into organized crime. It’s not difficult to imagine that, when a multi-million-dollar, age-old industry becomes defunct, parties on both sides will suffer some consequences.

But, as written by Business Insider, these setbacks fail to “measure how much a diverse ecosystem is worth.”

Beyond a shadow of doubt, it’s possible to minimize the negative human impacts of banning the ivory trade. If the Canadian government shifts its stance and policy on the issue, it will have to do so intelligently and with the best interests of people around the world—including those who make a living off of the industry—in mind.

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