Ivory Is Worthless, Elephants Are Invaluable: Why Malawi’s Ivory Is Not For Sale

Raw and worked ivory confiscated by DNPW.  Photograph courtesy of Lilongwe Wildlife Trust/Morgan Trimble.

By Jonathan Vaughan

On April 2, Malawi’s planned destruction of its ivory stockpile was postponed.

Despite clear assurances from President Peter Mutharika himself that the burn will go ahead following the conclusion of an outstanding court case, the decision caused heated debate. Social media and online chat forums set alight, with calls to cash in on the “millions” that Malawi could make from selling its ivory.

But the vast majority of commentators missed the point, because, quite simply, the ivory in question is worth nothing to Malawi. To be sold, it would have to be laundered illegally, breaking international law.

Raw and worked ivory confiscated by DNPW. Photograph courtesy of Lilongwe Wildlife Trust/Morgan Trimble.

A Sale Would Break More Than Law

Malawi has been a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) since 1982. Under CITES, international trade in ivory has been banned since 1989.

Selling Malawi’s ivory would therefore be no different from taking a haul of confiscated cocaine and deciding not to destroy it but to sell it back into the black market.

At the same time a sale, by breaking several signed declarations, would negate much of the recent work done by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) to galvanize international support.

Malawi has further upped its game in the fight against wildlife crime by taking an active role in talks that have led to international collaboration. During the past two years, three declarations have been signed that have committed Malawi to a hard line against the ivory trade.

The most recent was the Elephant Protection Initiative, which incorporates a commitment to reject the ivory trade for a minimum of ten years—and thereafter until African elephant populations are no longer threatened. This includes the closure of domestic ivory markets —> Read More

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