Last week, the government of New Zealand took a big step forward in the protection of endangered elephants by banning the sale of elephant ivory, the country’s Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage announced.

The ban would come by amending the Trade in Endangered Species Act 1989, which will also “improve the regulatory system at the border”, Sage said in a statement.

This puts the country in step with many others such as the United Kingdom, United States, France and China which have already banned domestic trade in elephant ivory. China, the largest end market for elephant ivory, banned domestic trade in 2017.

While the market for ivory in New Zealand is small, the ban will send a strong message that the country’s citizens don’t want products from poaching or illegal trading.

They join a growing list of countries to take such action. From September 2021, Singapore will ban local sales of ivory, removing a key end market for the valuable material. Hong Kong has also committed to phase out its domestic ivory markets by 2021, although efforts to expedite this process are ongoing.

International trade in ivory has been banned since 1990 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international treaty signed by most countries.

A ban on international trade in ‘new’ ivory was agreed under the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), when African elephants joined their Asian cousins on CITES Appendix I in 1989. Unfortunately, domestic markets have continued to thrive, fuelled by two CITES-approved ‘one-off sales’ of southern African ivory stockpiles to the Far East.

However, activists say poached ivory can be disguised as legal as long as trade is allowed in licensed outlets and online.

More than 30 African states recently appealed to the European Union to close its ivory market to help protect elephants. The European Commission is currently considering the results of a public consultation from 2017, which generated almost 90,000 responses, the vast majority calling for a ban.

Upwards of 20,000 elephants are killed each year across Africa to supply illicit ivory markets. On average, at least 55 elephants are killed a day by poachers for their tusks. That’s about one every 25 minutes.  This is an international movement which needs to build momentum by meaningful actions from governments, such as New Zealand has just demonstrated.