In a landmark decision, the Canadian government has announced a sweeping ban on the import and export of elephant ivory and rhino horns, including hunting trophies, effective January 8, 2024. This significant move aims to protect dwindling elephant and rhino populations, addressing the critical biodiversity crisis worldwide.
Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, during a press conference in Ottawa, underscored the urgency of the situation. “With the fast decline of African elephant populations and threats to rhinoceros populations due to poaching, Canada recognizes the importance of further limiting elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn trade,” Guilbeault stated. He emphasized the government’s commitment to “protect these iconic species for generations to come.”
The new regulations represent a near-total prohibition on the trade of raw elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn, previously restricted without a permit. Permits will now be confined to specific situations, including transportation for use in museums, zoos, scientific research, or law enforcement investigations. This move effectively ends the allowance of big game hunters to import hunting trophies containing these materials into Canada.
Kelly Butler, wildlife campaign manager for Humane Society International in Canada, hailed the decision, saying, “Canada’s new regulations will be some of the strongest protections for elephants and rhinos in non-range states.” She further emphasized the critical condition of these species, noting that the African elephant population has plummeted by 96% over the last century.
Renowned musician Bryan Adams, an active voice in the campaign against ivory import, expressed his satisfaction with the government’s action. “I’m thrilled that Canada has listened to the overwhelming number of Canadians who demanded action to end the senseless killing of elephants and rhinos,” Adams said in a statement.
The government also addressed concerns regarding heritage ivory artifacts. Individuals owning such items will still be allowed to possess them but will require a permit for international transport. Guilbeault clarified, “What we’re trying to do is to stop the poaching of elephants and rhinoceroses. For products that are already in circulation, like musical instruments, people will be able to take them out of the country, bring them into the country, but they will need a permit.”
Violations of the new law will carry severe penalties. Jean-François Dubois, senior wildlife officer at Environment Canada, indicated that breaches could lead to substantial fines and imprisonment, with the most severe cases facing up to an $18-million fine and five years in prison. He also noted that confiscated ivory and horn would be destroyed to prevent illegal circulation.
The ban follows a robust public campaign, including a petition that garnered over 700,000 signatures, pushing for an end to the elephant ivory trade in Canada. This decision positions Canada alongside other nations like the United States and Britain, which have taken similar steps against the ivory and rhino horn trade.
Conservationists globally have lauded Canada’s move. Dr. Winnie Kiiru, a Kenyan elephant conservationist, noted, “Canada’s actions send an important message: Ivory belongs to elephants.”
With this decision, Canada takes a significant stand in the global fight against wildlife trafficking and the preservation of endangered species, echoing the sentiment that these majestic creatures are not commodities but integral parts of our world’s natural heritage.