The best way to save elephants is to ban all ivory sales

Last week the international community catastrophically failed to agree measures to protect vanishing stocks of bluefin tuna. “Special interests” — that is, a love of a food despite it being endangered — prevailed. Today it appears we’re heading for a second failure, this time to protect elephants.

Despite being banned 20 years ago, the ivory trade is still thriving in some parts of the world and is, in fact, on the rise. In Kenya the number of elephants poached has increased fourfold in the past two years; in Sierra Leone the species is all but extinct.

Today in Doha, Qatar, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species has the chance to vote on some big changes for protection of elephants. But, astonishingly, the main proposal for discussion is not to provide increased protection; rather it is to relax the ban and allow Tanzania and Zambia to sell ivory stockpiles.

These so-called “one-off sales”, which have happened on two previous occasions, have been linked by conservationists to the increase in poaching. And the inclusion of China, the world’s largest market in illegal ivory, as a registered buyer of stockpiles has raised even greater concerns. Yet this was, inexplicably, supported by the British Government. The view on the street is that the market is open again and demand is rising, fuelling the illegal trade, which in turn provides funds for terrorists and extremists in Africa and India.

In addition to a desire for the profits from these sales, Tanzania is justifying its proposal to sell by claiming that it no longer has room to house its ivory. There is an obvious solution, one that I believe all African states should follow. Ivory from culled or dead elephants should not be stockpiled at all: it should be destroyed. No one suggests that we should stockpile seized drugs or weapons to sell for profit, and the same principle should apply to ivory.

Some states will never be persuaded to destroy their stockpiles as long as there is the possibility of sales. That is why it was so important to support a counter-proposal tabled by Kenya and other range states, which would ban any further stockpile sale proposals for 20 years. It is deeply regrettable that the British Government refused to support this proposal. So last week I wrote to the governments of countries proposing the 20-year moratorium and pledged that a future Conservative government would back them.

The last Conservative Government played a leading role in securing the ivory ban. This Labour Government has played a leading role in undermining it. We should be choking the demand for ivory, not stoking it.

Nick Herbert, the Shadow Environment Secretary.