'Shocking': Elephant ivory being sold on Gumtree despite ban announcement

·News and Video Producer
·6-min read

Ivory is still being sold online years after the federal government announced to the world it would seek to ban its trade domestically.

This morning, searches of online marketplace Gumtree found a number of items available for purchase which sellers claimed were ivory, and two auction houses are planning to auction off elephant parts on Sunday.

While some are represented online as antiques, others simply say the ivory is “old”. 

It's Australia’s weak legislation that allows the trade to continue domestically, with consumers largely unable to differentiate between ancient, fake, or freshly cut material. 

Two images of elephant ornaments with ivory horns for sale on Gumtree.
Elephants are being sold online today, with advertisers claiming parts of the models are ivory. Source: Gumtree

It’s two years since Environment Minister Sussan Ley told Yahoo News Australia that she wanted to see a ban on ivory, a decision her government formally announced at the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Geneva just under two weeks later.

“Australia has addressed the meeting of CITES in Geneva, formally announcing our intention to close the domestic trade of elephant ivory and rhino horn,” she said in August 2019.

Ms Ley went on to secure the agreement from state environment ministers to take the issue forward in November that year, but despite the plight of Africa’s elephants worsening in the years since, the process of securing an ivory ban appears to have stalled.

With the forest elephant now listed as critically endangered after an 86 per cent population loss over 30 years, and the savanna elephant listed as endangered due to a 60 per cent decline, For The Love of Wildlife’s Donalea Patman said the government must actually act.

“We're in an extinction crisis, she said.

“There really should be a moratorium on trade until the system is fixed, given that so much of the existing trade system is driving this."

“Yet we allow the legal trade to go unabated with no urgency in modernising the system.”

More on Australia's commitment to ban ivory

State uncertain as to scale of domestic ivory trade

This year, the Federal Government told Yahoo News Australia that it remains “committed” to working with state and territory governments to end the domestic trade in both ivory and rhino horn.

The Department of Environment said they sought an update from all environment ministers on June 1 to understand their progress in “identifying appropriate mechanisms in their jurisdictions”.

Shadow Minister for the Environment Terri Butler's office was also asked for comment about how a Labor government would tackle the issue, but she is yet to provide a response.

Ivory burning in a pile.
Despite cross-border bans being in place since 1989, enforcement relies on stopping domestic trade. Source: Getty

Decisions regarding the ban could soon largely be shouldered entirely by the states, as the Commonwealth is seeking to move the powers of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to them – the mechanism which would be used to enforce a ban.

At a state level, the NSW Government said they “support” restricting domestic trade in rhinoceros horn and elephant tusks, and are continuing to work with the Federal Government to identify “appropriate and impactful legislative and non-legislative mechanisms”.

Their statement was in response to questions posed by Animal Justice Party MP Emma Hurst this week, prompting confirmation there are no systems in place to retain data on the ivory trade in NSW.

Ms Hurst characterised ongoing online sales of ivory in Australia as “shocking”, adding the trafficking of wildlife parts is “far too easy".

"Lack of regulation is allowing the domestic trade of ivory to continue," Ms Hurst told Yahoo News Australia.

“Governments must take action to ensure we are not in any way supporting this cruel and inhumane industry.”

Timeline of events:

  • 2018, a Federal Parliamentary Inquiry is held to investigate a domestic ivory sales ban.

  • World Elephant Day 2019, Minister Ley told Yahoo News Australia she personally supports the ban.

  • August 22, 2019, the Morrison Government committed that they will enforce a ban.

  • November 2019, Minister Ley secured a commitment from the states to take the issue forward.

  • March 2021, the IUCN lists Africa's elephants as Endangered and Critically Endangered.

  • On World Elephant Day 2021, Australia is yet to ban domestic ivory sales.

A herd of elephants in Africa.
Elephant numbers have declined significantly over the last 30 years. Source: Getty

Animal welfare campaigners unite in call for urgent action

The call to close down the domestic trade with “urgency” is being echoed by larger wildlife advocate groups including Humane Society International (HSI), International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the Born Free Foundation.

In a joint statement, they emphasised that while CITES has banned the cross-border international trade since 1989, it can only be effectively enforced if governments like Australia “pull their weight” and ban domestic sales.

Born Free Foundation’s Gabriel Fava added that China, UK, Singapore, Taiwan and the US have either legislated or are in the process of legislating against the traded, adding pressure on Australia, New Zealand and Japan to follow suit.

Environment Department responds to call for urgent action

Following publication of this article, a spokesperson for the Federal Environment Department issued a statement saying Australia has been at the forefront of tackling the "ivory blackmarket" and "illegal wildlife trade". 

"We strongly support the CITES treaty and comply fully with its strict rules on trade in ivory," the spokesperson said.

"Australia’s laws take an even stronger approach, almost completely banning ivory imports into the country for over 30 years.

"The only domestic trade relates to second hand goods already in Australia and a ban in this area will require an agreed national approach from the states.

"In November 2019, all the states and territories agreed to identify appropriate mechanisms in their own jurisdictions to stop the ivory trade.

"The Minister looks forward to hearing from states and territories on the ways in which they can help meet this objective."

Gumtree issues statement about continued ivory sales on site

Gumtree was first contacted about the sale of ivory products on its website by Yahoo News Australia in June this year.

Following publication of this article, they issued a statement saying they prohibit the sale of ivory, rhinoceros horn, animal parts and hunting trophies.

"We work on a report and take-down process, removing any reported ads that breach Gumtree’s policies and terms of use." a spokesperson wrote.

"We encourage users to report any suspicious or concerning listings believed to be unlawful or that contravene our policy guidelines via the ‘Report Ad’ function on each listing, or by contacting Customer Service." 

The author Michael Dahlstrom has previously completed unpaid work at For the Love of Wildlife.

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