More than 10 tonnes of illegal ivory destroyed in Dubai

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DUBAI // More than 10 tonnes of elephant ivory worth US$20 million has been destroyed to demonstrate the UAE’s commitment to fighting the illegal trade.

The stockpile of raw and crafted ivory recently seized from smugglers at the Emirates’ airports, borders and sea ports, was crushed on Wednesday by staff from the Ministry of Environment and Water, in collaboration with Dubai Municipality, at Al Qusais landfill.

What is left will be treated and buried, with several intact pieces saved for use in scientific research and awareness campaigns.

“The destruction of the confiscated ivory stockpiles in the state is in compliance with the values and the commitment to contribute to international efforts to conserve biodiversity and protect endangered species,” said Dr Rashid bin Fahad, Minister of Environment and Water. “In this way, we can take a step forward and send a message that the UAE will continue to be supportive of international conventions to combat illegal trade.”

The UAE is a signatory of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), which bans the trade in endangered species.

The illegal wildlife trade generates an estimated US$19 billion (Dh70bn) a year, ranking fourth on the list of the most lucrative illegal activities in the world, behind drugs, counterfeiting and human trafficking.

Seizures of ivory around the world continue to increase, from 24.3 tonnes in 2011 to 30 tonnes in 2012, and 41.5 tonnes in 2013.

Last week, security officials at Dubai International Airport handed over 84 African elephant tusks that were seized in transit from the Ivory Coast to Vietnam.

In 2012 and 2013, Dubai Customs intercepted shipments of 474 ivory tusks at Jebel Ali port, and last year authorities seized 301 pieces of ivory at the airport.

“Most of the illegal ivory is sent to East Asia, where this highly coveted ‘white gold’ has seen its value as an investment vehicle rise considerably,” said Dr Elsayed Mohamed, regional director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) Middle East and North Africa.

“Ifaw strongly encourages governments to destroy all their stocks of ivory. Each year, between 25,000 and 50,000 elephants are killed for ivory, which means one elephant killed every 15 minutes. We are encouraging other Middle East countries to join the UAE in taking a stand against the ivory trade.”

The UAE is the first country in the Middle East and North Africa to destroy its stockpile of illegal ivory, following in the footsteps of the United States, China, UK, France, Ethiopia and Kenya, which have all burned and crushed seized ivory.

Founded in 1969, Ifaw protects animals around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, it rescues and prevents cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. Last year, the Ministry of Environment and Water, in collaboration with Dubai International Airport, organised a campaign targeting one million passengers, to raise awareness about the illegal trafficking of ivory and endangered wildlife.

From May 15, Ifaw, the ministry, the airport and Dubai Police will launch a fresh campaign for passengers, warning that smuggling ivory leads to prosecution. It will also be conducted at Abu Dhabi International Airport.

roueiti@thenational.ae