Africa’s major transit hub for ivory export signals strong commitment to thwart trade.
In a ground-breaking move to combat the illegal ivory trade and protect its dwindling elephant population, Nigeria has successfully organised its first-ever ivory crush, destroying significant stockpiles of confiscated elephant tusks and worked ivory weighing approximately 2.5 tonnes (2,436.15 kilograms).
The ivory crush, held in the Nigerian capital Abuja, marks a significant milestone in the country’s efforts to curb the illegal ivory trade and conserve its few hundred remaining elephants. The initiative was spearheaded by the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) in collaboration with the Elephant Protection Initiative Foundation (EPIF).
This is all happening three months after Nigeria publicly destroyed about 4 tonnes (3914.08 kilograms) of seized pangolin scales.
“We are proud to stand at the forefront of the fight against the illegal ivory trade. Today’s ivory crush is a symbol of Nigeria’s unwavering commitment to wildlife conservation and the protection of our natural heritage. By destroying these confiscated ivory stockpiles, we send a strong message that wildlife trafficking will not be tolerated in our country. Nigeria is taking a firm stance, and we call on the global community to join hands in eradicating this illicit trade that threatens the very existence of our elephants,” said Dr. Iziaq Adekunle Salako, Honourable Minister of State for Environment.
“The destruction of the confiscated ivory is a tangible step towards stamping out wildlife trafficking. We stand united against the illegal ivory trade, and our actions today are not only crucial in preserving the majestic elephants for future generations but also in sending a clear message that Nigeria will do whatever it takes to protect our elephants and other endangered wildlife,” said Professor Aliyu Jauro, the Director General/ Chief Executive Officer of NESREA.
The illegal ivory trade poses a severe threat to elephant populations across Africa, contributing to a steep decline in numbers of these majestic creatures and fueling organised crime. Tens of thousands of elephants are killed each year for their tusks, despite a ban on the international trade in ivory since 1989 by the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
The most recent African Elephant Status Report estimates that about 415,000 elephants remain in Africa today compared to over 1.3 million elephants found in the continent in 1979. As few as 400 remain today in Nigeria.
“The Elephant Protection Initiative is honoured to stand with the Government of Nigeria at today’s ivory crush. The destruction of confiscated elephant ivory in Abuja will not, in itself, put an end to the trafficking of elephant ivory. It will, however, ensure that no one will ever profit from this contraband. When coupled with the recent seizures of ivory and the prosecution and conviction of offenders, it also sends a powerful message that Nigeria does not tolerate this illegal trade, and is taking important steps to protect its remaining elephant population. We look forward to continuing our support to Nigeria with stockpile management and other conservation-related issues.” said John Scanlon AO, the CEO of the Elephant Protection Initiative Foundation (EPIF).
In recent years, Nigeria has emerged as a major hub for the trafficking of ivory, especially to Asia. The government is working to combat this problem, through international collaborations, strengthening law enforcement and public awareness campaigns. Nigeria recently adopted its first National Strategy to Combat Wildlife and Forest Crime and subsequently established the Wildlife Law Enforcement Task Force (WLETF) of which NESREA is the operational lead, to address wildlife crime in the country.
“Nigeria is stepping up its game in fighting illegal wildlife trade with more seizures and prosecutions and greater public awareness. The next logical step is to update its outdated legislation and pass a law which was introduced last parliamentary session, but was stalled by the elections. This would greatly help to end its role as a major entrepot for illegal wildlife trade,” said Peter Knights OBE, Founder and CEO of Wild Africa Fund.
There has been a significant increase in the number of seizures of ivory and prosecution of offenders in Nigeria in the past year. In May 2023, two individuals were given a four-year prison sentence for conspiring to possess 839.4 kilograms (kg) of pangolin scales and 145 kg of elephant tusks illegally and a clearing agent was sentenced to a six-month prison term in June for illegally possessing a container full of pangolin scales, elephant ivory, tusks, and bones.
Meanwhile, some of the large seizures of pangolin scales and ivory by the Nigeria Customs Service are still being tendered as evidence for prosecution and they are yet to be handed over to NESREA for public destruction.
Nigeria remains dedicated to implementing further measures to combat wildlife trafficking. The Wildlife Conservation Society (Nigeria Programme) and the EPIF have been working closely with Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Environment to prepare a National Elephant Action Plan (NEAP) which will help Nigeria allocate significant resources to protect its remaining elephants, enhance anti-poaching efforts and collaborate with international partners to address the ivory trade crisis. The NEAP will be published later this year.