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UK at heart of illegal ivory trade

Date: 12-Mar-04
Country: UK
Author: Jeremy Lovell

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is due to agree the one-off sale of a total of 60 tonnes of ivory from Botswana, Namibia and South Africa to Japan, but activists fear the sale will trigger an explosion of poaching.

"The UK has very good enforcement of wildlife laws and yet the trade in illegal ivory here is flourishing," a spokeswoman for the International Fund for Animal Welfare told Reuters on Thursday.

"Any relaxation of the international ban on sales of new ivory will be used as a cover for the killing of more elephants to fuel the illegal trade," she added.

IFAW said a two-month undercover investigation it carried out of antiques traders in London and several other cities across Britain found thousands of ivory objects openly for sale either without the necessary papers or with forged documents.

Under the law it is illegal to sell ivory carvings made after 1947, and those made before that date must be accompanied by documents giving proof of age.

No one from the National Criminal Intelligence Service's wildlife crime unit in London was immediately available for comment on the report.

But the IFAW investigators said they found whole tusks, bangles, necklaces, chess pieces, trinket boxes and letter openers among a host of objects on sale without any papers.

"There was a combination of a quite flagrant abuse of the law as well as complete ignorance of it," the IFAW spokeswoman said.

The IFAW report, Elephants on the High Street, said traders had on several occasions offered to write out receipts for its investigators declaring that the item for sale was over 100 years old.

One even told them that it was simple to smuggle new ivory from China through customs.

Investigators also found thousands of illegal ivory items for sale on various Internet auction sites, the report added.

It said Britain was the third biggest source of illegal ivory seized as it was being smuggled into the United States which has been cited by CITES are a major contributor to the continued poaching of African elephants.

IFAW urged the government to vote against the proposed stockpile sales at the CITES meeting in Geneva from March 15 to 19 and at all further meetings.

It also called on Britain's wildlife crime police to get tougher on the illegal trade in protected species and products and for Internet service providers to monitor more closely the traffic through their sites

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