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In a bid to help protect elephants and rhinos amid plummeting biodiversity worldwide, Canada has banned the import and export of hunting trophies containing elephant tusks or rhino horns.
The change comes as part of an overhaul of the permit process for transporting ivory goods derived from elephants or rhinos, which the federal government announced on Monday and which narrows the giving of permits to very specific situations.
“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 to Canada,” Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault said in a press release.
“Stricter regulatory amendments announced today will ensure Canada continues to do its part to protect these iconic species for generations to come.”
The import or export of raw elephant tusk and raw rhinoceros horn without a permit was previously prohibited and will continue to be.
However, permits will now only be issued if the tusk or horn in question is being transported for use in a museum, zoo, for scientific research or to support a law enforcement investigation in some way.
This means that big game hunters will no longer be allowed to obtain a permit to transport a hunting trophy containing elephant tusks or rhinoceros horn into Canada.
Conservationists, who have spent years calling for hunting trophies to be banned in Canada, lauded the move.
“Elephant and rhino populations have been decimated by global trade in their parts, and poaching causes considerable suffering to these incredible animals,” Kelly Butler, campaign manager for Humane Society International (HSI), said in a Monday statement celebrating the announcement.
“In banning trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn, the Canadian government has shown considerable leadership and reflected the will of Canadians and the vast majority of African nations holding elephant populations. At last, Canadians can rest assured that our country is doing our part to ensure these majestic animals have a future.”
According to HSI, the African elephant population has declined by 96 per cent over the last century, and poachers in Africa kill as many as 25,000 elephants and 1,300 rhinos every year. Poaching is the most significant threat to these species, experts say.
Musician Bryan Adams, who has been a prominent voice in the call to ban the import of ivory in Canada, said in the HSI release he is “thrilled that Canada has listened to the overwhelming number of Canadians who demanded action to end the senseless killing of elephants and rhinos.
“The policies enacted by the Canadian government set a powerful precedent for countries around the world to join the fight to protect elephants and rhinos.”
The government also announced changes to the permitting process for items made with worked elephant tusk and rhinoceros horn, meaning ivory that has been carved, shaped or processed in some way. This can include jewelry, furniture inlays, game pieces and even pianos made before most manufacturers replaced their ivory keys with plastic ones in the 1970s due to ethical concerns.
All items containing worked elephant tusk or rhino horn will now need a permit to enter or leave Canada, even personal or household items.
The government clarified that this still applies to items produced before July 1975, which is when Canada first ratified the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Between 2015 and 2021, around 14 elephant tusks and two rhinoceros horns were imported into Canada each year, according to the press release. For years, advocates have been calling for the trade of elephant ivory to be banned in Canada, with a petition launched in 2020 garnering more than 700,000 signatures.
The stricter approach to the transport of ivory goods derived from elephants or rhinos will come into effect on Jan. 8, 2024.
Anyone who is starting the process of importing or exporting goods after Nov. 22, 2023 will be required to apply for the necessary permits.
If a person can prove that they began the importing or exporting process prior to Nov. 22, the new requirements will not apply, “even if they arrive to the border after the coming into force date,” according to the government’s website.