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Wed 19 Feb 2014 09:35 AM

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Ivory’s weakest link?

Dubai must to do more to break the evil trade in elephant tusks says Shane McGinley

Ivory’s weakest link?
Shane McGinley

This month saw the UK Government, Prince Charles and the Duke of Cambridge host the Illegal Wildlife Trade Summit in London, where decision-makers from around 50 countries attended to discuss ways to reduce the trade in illegal wildlife products.

Ivory was the main focus of the event and the figures quoted are truly shocking: Campaigners say an elephant is killed every 15 minutes for its tusks. It is estimated that more than 30,000 elephants were killed in Africa last year and 1,000 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone, an increase of some 5,000 percent.

However, the issue is that the trade is worth $20bn a year and instead of declining it has doubled in value since 2007, according to a Chatham House report published in time for the event.

In a bid to set a high profile example, Britain’s Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, issued a strongly worded statement in which he vowed to destroy all the ivory in Buckingham Palace and encouraged other world leaders to follow suit, sending a message to illegal elephant poachers and ivory traders to cease their barbaric trade.

One country sitting among the 50 in London which could directly take heed of the issues discussed at the conference is the UAE. In 2011, CITES, a leading agency involved in the fight against the trafficking of wild animals, said it was investigating an alarming surge in incidents involving exotic animals trafficking through the emirates.

The 175-nation Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which aims to curb the trafficking of threatened animals, said at the time it may take action against the UAE if it did not do more to curb the trade in animal parts.

The Gulf state has been a member in 1990 but it’s not the first time the UAE has fallen foul of CITES regulations. The Gulf country was suspended in 2001 over its part in illegal trading, but reinstated the following year.

The UAE, a global trade hub, is a known hotspot for exotic animals due to high demand and a perception that they are seen as symbols of power. A quick look at the CITES website shows that the incidents are still happening, and on a large scale. In December 215 ivory tucks worth around $4m were stopped being smuggled through Jebel Ali Port.

Last summer, Interpol investigators foiled an attempt to ship 1.5 tonnes of African ivory from Sri Lanka through Dubai and onto the Far East, in what authorities said was the biggest haul in the region in recent times.

“Dubai is a major hub now in terms of international travel, and especially coming from the African countries this is a big source place for wildlife trafficking,” Steve Chao, host of the Al Jazeera news and current affairs programme 101 East, said in November after the station aired a The Return of the Lizard King, a documentary on Anson Wong, one of the world’s most infamous wildlife traffickers.

Dubai is playing its part in trying to stem the trade as last year Dubai Customs launched an awareness campaign about endangered animals and the illegal trade but as a central port and aviation hub for the region linking east and west it is a significant link in the chain which needs to be strengthened if authorities are really serious about cracking down this brutal and needless trade.

As Buckingham Palace gets set to destroy its priceless collection of around 1,200 items which contain ivory, including a throne from India presented to Queen Victoria, Prince Charles could really make a difference if he put the issue of the trade in ivory on the agenda during his visit to the Gulf this week.

After all, celebrity-backed animal rights campaigns can work, as we saw this week when James Bond movie star Sir Roger Moore claimed victory in his campaign against British retailer Fortnum & Mason's plans to sell foie gras at its store in Dubai.

The veteran British actor had led a campaign by Persons for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) against the high-end retailer for its sale of foie gras – the liver of goose or duck that have been specially fed in a process PETA says causes “unbearable pain” for the birds. In reaction to his call for Dubai consumers to boycott the store, the retailer has now scrapped plans to sell the controversial food product.

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