CITES Secretary-General's remarks to the first destruction of confiscated elephant ivory in the United Arab Emirates

Updated on 12 January 2021

CITES Secretary-General's remarks to the first destruction of confiscated
elephant ivory in the United Arab Emirates

John E. Scanlon, CITES Secretary-General

29 April 2015

The United Arab Emirates Ministry of Environment and Water, which serves as the Management Authority of CITES.

The Dubai Municipality, together with the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, which serves as the Scientific Authority of CITES.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I would like to express my sincere thanks to the Government of the United Arab Emirates, and to the Dubai Municipality, for inviting me to witness the destruction of more than 10 tonnes of confiscated elephant ivory and I regret that I am unable to make it to Dubai in person.


Despite considerable efforts to combat wildlife crime, it continues to be a major problem worldwide. The poaching of African elephants and the illegal trade in their ivory is one of the most noticeable and destructive forms of wildlife crime. 

It is not only having a devastating impact on the African elephant, but it also poses a threat to people and their livelihoods – as well as national economies and in some cases national and regional security.

It must stop and the international community is determined to end this illicit trade.

Over the past 24 months we have seen a number of countries, including Belgium, Chad, China, France, Gabon, Hong Kong SAR of China, Kenya, Philippines, and the United States, destroy stockpiles of illegally traded elephant ivory that has been seized and confiscated.

Today’s important event in Dubai serves to raise public awareness about the impacts of illegal elephant ivory  trade and the determination of the United Arab Emirates and the global community to put an end to it.


Distinguished guests, the destruction of confiscated elephant ivory will not  in itself put an end to the illegal trade in elephant ivory.

However, when coupled with the seizure of ivory and prosecution of offenders, it sends a powerful message that the United Arab Emirates, does not accept and will not tolerate this illegal trade or the devastating impact it is having on the African elephant, on the livelihoods of rural communities, and sometimes on national and regional security.

It also provides a very public opportunity to send a message to those who trade illegally in elephant ivory that the age and origin of their contraband can today be readily identified through the use of modern forensics.  Therefore, whatever may happen in the future, illegally traded elephant ivory will never have any commercial value and the return on the ‘investment’ will most likely be imprisonment, heavy fines, and seized assets.


Distinguished delegates, the enhanced collective effort that is underway to combat illegal wildlife trade – both at international and national level – is a clear evidence that illegal elephant ivory trade is increasingly being recognized by States as a serious crime, which now carries a much higher risk of detection, prosecution and conviction in a growing number of countries – with higher penalties, including fines, imprisonment and the confiscation of assets being imposed.

This recognition of wildlife crime as a serious crime gained further momentum thought the recently adopted Doha Declaration at the 2015 UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (see: ‘Calls for wildlife and forest crime to be treated as serious crime’).


The guidance provided by CITES Resolutions is that the illegally traded and confiscated elephant ivory should be restricted to four uses only, namely, ‘bona fide scientific, educational, enforcement or identification purposes’.  Where this is not practicable, two options are provided by the Resolution, namely to save the specimens in storage or to destroy them.

As Secretary-General, I do not encourage or discourage countries (as States Parties to CITES) to choose one option or the other.  This is a matter for each country to determine for itself.

However, when a country, such as the United Arab Emirates, takes a decision to publicly destroy its confiscated stockpiles of elephant ivory, I do believe it presents a unique opportunity to draw public attention to the scale, nature and impacts of the serious crimes that lie behind these confiscations and to act as a deterrent to illegal trade.

What was recognized at the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES in 2013 is even more relevant today: reversing the disturbing trends in elephant poaching and ivory smuggling requires a sustained and collective international effort.

Today’s event will attract global, regional and national attention and should serve to raise further public awareness about the devastating impacts of illegal ivory trade and wildlife trafficking, and about the global community’s collective determination to put an end to it.

I close by recognizing the recent seizure of elephant ivory at Dubai Airport.  I congratulate the Ministry of Interior and Dubai Customs and all concerned for their vigilance and encourage the relevant Authorities to investigate the source and destination of the ivory to enable follow-up enforcement actions.  

Thank you.



For more see: ‘CITES and confiscated elephant ivory and rhino horn – to destroy or not destroy?’ John E. Scanlon, October, 2014