Netherlands heavily involved in illegal ivory trade: report

African Elephant
African Elephant. Photo: Bernard DUPONT / Wikimedia Commons

The Netherlands is up to its ears in illegal ivory trade and therefore directly complicit in the mass slaughter of elephants in Africa, American network Avaaz and action group Elephant Action League conclude in a scientific study that will be published next month, AD reports.

The two organizations bought ivory artifacts in Dutch antique shops and Marktplaats earlier this year and had them studied by the University of Oxford. The researchers found that 68 percent of the ivory dates from after 1947, and therefore should not have been traded at all. The current semi-ban on ivory states that the trade in ivory from before 1947 is allowed, but nothing newer. Moreover, no certificate is required for the trade in old ivory. 

Ivory traders can easily make new ivory look aged using tea baths. In order to distinguish between new and old ivory, radiocarbon research like that now done by Oxford University is required. "But that is so costly and time-consuming that it is not a solution for investigative services", Bert Wander, campaign director at Avaaz, said to AD. 

Of the ivory figurines Avaaz bought in the Netherlands, three dated from the 90s, and one's ivory came from an elephant that still lived in the savannas between 2000 and 2003. "Or even after that. The radiocarbon examination does not show when the elephant died, but when its ivory was formed. The moment of his death can be years or even decades later", Wander said. 

Avaaz and Elephant Action League conducted their investigation in 10 EU member states. In Germany, half of the ivory bought dates after 1947. The moment for the study's publication was strategically chosen - the European Commission will decide late next month whether or not to propose a total ivory ban for the EU countries. "Europe and the Netherlands have a leading role when it comes to fair trade, but with their ivory trade they undermine it", Wander said. "The results of our study confirm that ivory sold in the Netherlands boosts the slaughter of elephants in Africa. How many more must die before this blood-soaked trade stops?"

D66 European parliamentarian Gerben Jan Gerbrandy has been fighting for the African elephants for years. "This is the scientific proof that there is also large-scale rotting in the Netherlands and that you can only deal with illegal ivory trade with a complete ban", he said to AD. "France and England are already working on it, but the Netherlands is not because there is too little evidence that the trade in antiques and smuggle run together. That story is no longer valid with this study. The Netherlands must stop its resistance and Brussels must come up with a tough ban instead of recommendation. One country that doesn't cooperate and your entire system is as leaky as a basket."

The Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality wants to wait for the results of an EU study before responding. "The EU is now conducting research into the trade in ivory within the EU", a spokesperson said to the newspaper. "This study is about whether trade in ivory in the EU contributes to poaching or illegal trade. The EU research and this new data will be studied and we will come up with a response as soon as possible."

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