If you know people who still own or trade elephant ivory in Singapore, pay close attention.
12 August 2019. It was a special day. I remember waking up to the sweet announcement of Singapore’s total ivory ban on World Elephant Day last year.
It was a big day for many of us who have worked tirelessly to close a loophole that existed in one of our wildlife trade laws, which allowed traders to buy and publicly sell vintage ivory produced before 1990.
Similarly with Hong Kong, the complete ban on domestic ivory trade will come into full effect next year in 2021.
Today, Singapore remains a transhipment hotspot for traders carrying illegal ivory to countries where demand for illegal wildlife products continues to be rampant.
While the ban would only take place two years after it was first announced, plenty of things could happen during this time.
Case in point: What with everything that is going on (could we have predicted a zoonotic-disease pandemic assaulting every part of 2020?), we think it’s important for us to revisit what an ivory ban means for Singapore.
Last month, we fully embraced Viet Nam’s ban on wildlife imports and the closing of illegal wildlife markets. This news came amid fears of future pandemics that could have similar origins from infectious viruses jumping the species barrier from animal hosts to humans.
Is Singapore’s ivory ban the strictest in the world? Can Singapore develop stronger coordination with other governments to ensure that the supply and demand of ivory does not shift elsewhere? What should you do if you know or may know of people who are still in possession of elephant ivory products?
I asked my colleague Michelle, who is in the conservation department, to help explain some of the challenges on ivory trade over the past few years.
One country is not enough, greater cooperation needed
In China where it took a big step to ban ivory trade in 2017, a WWF survey on Chinese consumers found a promising decline in buying of elephant ivory. Close to 80% of the respondents supported the ban. However, WWF also found that a consumer group has increased interest in buying elephant ivory outside of China such as Thailand, Viet Nam and Laos.
We have to make sure that Singapore’s ivory ban will not shift the supply and demand of ivory trade elsewhere. This is why passing a ban on ivory in one country is not enough to stop this global trade. Addressing this issue requires strategic inter-agency and inter-governmental cooperation.
If I can bring you back to last year where Singapore’s National Parks Board (NParks) led one of the largest seizures the world had seen, with 38 tonnes of pangolin scales and almost 10 tonnes of elephant ivory worth more than S$170 million seized. Did you know that this was the result of a tip-off from the Chinese government?
This is further proof that we need greater country collaboration to tackle the illegal wildlife trade.
If there is anything, we have seen from the COVID-19 responses in several countries that it’s possible to make swift and effective inter-governmental decisions together.
Increasing number of unverified online accounts selling ivory
As we grow more reliant on online businesses to deliver our meals and groceries to our doorsteps, online trade has grown in complexity too.
Over a short period of 25 days from June to July 2016, a study recorded 8,508 items ranging from elephant tusks to jewellery and decorative items that were offered for sale in 1,559 Facebook and Instagram posts across Indonesia, Viet Nam and Thailand.
In Singapore, the booming online pet trade is no different.
In March this year, a Mothership article reported a 23-year-old who was fined $9,600 for trying to sell the endangered freshwater crocodilian, two Indian star tortoises and a hedgehog on a Telegram channel.
Thankfully, social media giants like Facebook and Instagram have joined efforts to close down online marketplaces. Though Facebook has banned the sale of animals, it was reported on Reuters that in May 2020, WWF researchers found 2,143 animals from 94 species in Myanmar being sold via the platform. Since then, more than 500 accounts have since been taken down by Facebook.
Similarly, we see that a systematic approach among social media channels is needed to detect and take down online postings. We cannot afford to have online traders shifting their focus to alternative social media platforms.
The WWF Wildlife Cyber Spotter Programme (which you can sign up here) will empower you to be part of the solution by helping to detect and report illegal online listings. If selected, you will undergo a compulsory online training to learn how to identify prohibited wildlife products and report any suspicious content you find online to WWF. WWF will then review and send accurate listings to participating members of the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online to remove the content from their platforms.
In light of the global pandemic, we have seen how governments can react quickly and it’s somewhat fascinating to see people adapting to changes in ways we thought were impossible. We saw what could work well – and what is required to overcome new challenges. If you want to know more about what we can do to further disrupt illegal wildlife trade, my colleague Kim, wrote a brilliantly thought-out article here.
Together with NParks, we’ve put together a timeline on Singapore’s ivory ban with all the information you need to know.
Timeline of how Singapore’s ivory ban came into effect
Last but not least, if you have or know of anyone who still owns and trades ivory products in Singapore, find out more about everything you need to know by checking these frequently asked questions prepared by NParks here.
If you like reading this, read more about the smarter way to reboot economies in Asia, the low-down on Singapore’s amped-up climate targets, and WWF’s effort in closing down four illegal wildlife trade shops in the Golden Triangle.