Ottawa has banned the import of elephant ivory and rhino horn, including by trophy hunters, in a bid to stem the decimation of the wild populations in Africa and India, as well as other parts of South Asia.
The move follows years of campaigning by conservation groups, as well as singer-songwriter Bryan Adams who said Monday he was “thrilled that Canada has listened to the overwhelming number of Canadians who demanded action to end the senseless killing of elephants and rhinos.”
Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said the ban will limit the ability to move ivory across Canadian borders and help stem the trade in tusks and horns killed by poachers. He said poaching and other threats have led to a decline in the African elephant population by 96 per cent over the past century.
Since 1980, the number of elephants in Africa has fallen from 1.3 million to around 400,000, a drop of 70 per cent.
As many as 25,000 elephants and 1,300 rhinos are killed by poachers in Africa every year. In March, 2021, the African forest elephant was declared to be critically endangered and the African savanna elephant to be endangered.
Mr. Guilbeault said the rhino population has “declined drastically” despite having been a protected species for decades. Black rhinos found in Africa are considered critically endangered.
“These declines are caused by illegal killing and poaching, human and wildlife conflict, habitat destruction, climate change, illegal logging and infrastructure and development,” he said at an Ottawa news conference announcing the ban.
Canada’s new regulations ban the trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn and the import of trophies “with very limited exceptions,” Mr. Guilbeault added.
Import and export of items made from ivory and horn to a museum or for use in scientific research will be allowed butwill require a permit, under the changes.
The change to the law will also mean that household items, including pianos, fans and antique ivory figurines, made with elephant ivory or rhino horn, will require a Canadian CITES permit before they can be moved abroad. (CITES – the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora – is a multilateral treaty.)
Jean-François Dubois, senior wildlife officer at Environment Canada, which is responsible for enforcement, told The Globe and Mail that breaching the ban could carry stiff penalties and a jail sentence. The most severe breach, for example importing a container full of ivory, could carry an $18-million fine and five years in prison.
Hunters who return to Canada with an elephant tusk to display could also face stiff penalties, with more for repeat offenders, he said. Mr. Dubois said that confiscated ivory and horn would eventually be burned.
The ban follows a petition attracting more than 700,000 signatures, and a concerted campaign to end the elephant ivory trade in Canada.
Some animal-welfare advocates have complained that Canada has lagged behind other countries, including the United States and Britain.
Animal-welfare groups argue that a legal trade in ivory and rhino horn provides an incentive for poaching.
Kelly Butler of Humane Society International welcomed Monday’s change to the law, saying “at last, Canadians can rest assured that our country is doing our part to ensure these majestic animals have a future.”
“In banning trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn, including the import of hunting trophies containing these parts, Canada has removed opportunities for trafficked ivory and horn to be laundered through Canada and has sent the message that elephants and rhinos are not commodities,” she said.
Barry MacKay, director of the Animal Alliance of Canada, says that taking away the Canadian market for tusk and horn will play a part in protecting threatened and endangered species.
“Within a few thousand years of the very first people to arrive in Canada, our native elephants – mammoths and mastodons – were extinct, and that can’t be changed, but we have a chance to do our part to save the elephants, and the rhinos, of Africa and Asia,” he said.
Dr. Winnie Kiiru, a leading elephant conservationist in Kenya, said she had seen the devastating effects of poaching and trophy hunting on elephants and rhinos. She said, “Canada’s actions send an important message: Ivory belongs to elephants.”