Discussion document: range of potential actions pertaining to trade controls in elephant ivory in Canada

Official title: Discussion document on a range of potential actions pertaining to trade controls in elephant ivory in Canada


Trade in African and Asian elephants and their parts is regulated internationally through trade controls under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).  The text of the Convention was adopted in March 1973 and came into force in July 1975. Canada is one of more than 180 countries, called Parties, that are a signatory to CITES. CITES is a legally binding international agreement that aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. The species covered by CITES are listed in three Appendices according to how threatened they are by trade and the degree of protection they need.

Globally, over 38,000 species (5,950 animal and 32,800 plant species, mostly orchids) are listed in the Appendices and approximately 180 of those species are found in Canada.

In Canada, CITES is implemented through the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (WAPPRIITA) and the Wild Animal and Plant Trade Regulations (WAPTR). WAPPRIITA/ WAPTR regulate imports and exports to and from Canada and interprovincial/territorial transport of certain wildlife species.


Recently, global concerns regarding African elephant poaching and the negative impacts on elephant populations from poaching and illegal trade in elephant ivory have increased. As a result, countries with significant levels of trade in ivory, including the United States (U.S.) and the United Kingdom (U.K.), have implemented trade controls for elephant ivory trade stricter than those required by CITES.

Similarly, there have been growing calls for Canada to consider strengthening domestic measures on importation and exportation/re-exportation of elephant ivory. The aim would be to address increasing global concerns regarding the negative impacts on elephant populations from poaching and illegal trade in elephant ivory. In response, the Government of Canada is considering a range of potential actions that Canada could take to respond to these concerns.


Environment and Climate Change Canada (the Department) is seeking your comments on a range of potential actions that could be implemented to increase trade controls in elephant ivory. Comments received will be considered in the development of Canadian actions to address global concerns in elephant ivory trade. Actions could range from maintaining the current levels of control, to changes to policy and procedures for permitting trade or to amendments to the Act or Regulations (WAPPRIITA/WAPTR) to further increase controls in elephant ivory trade.

Obligations under CITES

Import, export/re-export permits

CITES regulates international trade in specimen of species of wild flora and fauna based on a system of permits, which can be issued only if certain conditions are met. When these conditions are fulfilled, the trade is legal, sustainable and traceable in accordance with Articles III, IV and V of the Convention.  Export/re-export permits are required for all CITES listed species. Import permits are also required for Appendix I listed species. Commercial trade in Appendix I specimens is generally prohibited.

Exemptions from import and export/re-export permits

CITES provides several types of exemptions from CITES permits for low risk trade that countries may implement. The most common permit exemptions apply to the import and export/re-export of pre-ConventionFootnote 1 specimens, specimens bred in captivity, and personal and household items,Footnote 2 subject to specific conditions. These conditions include transport in personal baggage, a household move, an inheritance or specimens of Appendix II or III species purchased while abroad as a tourist souvenir. Exempted specimens that are pre-Convention or bred in captivity can be issued Certificates instead of export/re-export permits.

Stricter measures

The Convention also allows CITES Parties to implement stricter measures than those set by the Convention to provide additional protections to selected species. The most common types of stricter measures include additional requirements prior the issuance of permits; requiring import permits for specimens of Appendix II species, either for all specimens or specific types of trade (e.g., commercial trade requires a permit and non-commercial trade does not); restricting import from countries that are found to be non-compliant with the CITES provisions; prohibiting the import and/or export/re-export of specific types of specimens or trade types or complete prohibition of trade in a species.

Canadian stricter measures:

Canada requires import permits for all specimens of Appendix I species imported into Canada, including for specimens that are pre-Convention or bred in captivity. Although Canada implements a permitting exemption for the import, export/re-export of personal household items for most CITES listed species, this exemption does not apply to Endangered or Threatened species in Canada and tourist souvenirs made from Appendix I species. Canada also issues export or re-export permits instead of certificates for specimens that are pre-convention or bred in captivity.

Canada prohibits the import into Canada of any wildlife specimen that was possessed, distributed or transported in contravention of any law of any foreign state.

Obligations and other controls under CITES as they apply to Asian and African elephant ivory trade

The Asian elephant was listed in Appendix I in 1975. The African elephant was unilaterally included in Appendix III in 1976 by the country of Ghana, included in Appendix II by the Conference of the Parties (the main decision-making body of CITES) in 1977 and transferred to Appendix I in 1990. There are four countries (Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe) with African elephant populations that are listed on Appendix II for specific types of tradeFootnote 3. All other ivory specimens from these countries are considered listed in Appendix I.

Import: CITES prohibits the commercial import of elephant ivory specimens of Appendix I populations of elephants that have been removed from the wild after they were listed in the CITES Appendices. An import permit is required prior to non-commercial import.

Canada currently implements these provisions.

Export/re-export: Export/re-export permits are required for all elephant ivory specimens from Appendix I and Appendix II elephant populations, which cannot be issued until it has been verified that the specimens have been legally acquired without detriment to the species in the wild.

Exemptions: Appendix I elephant ivory specimens that were acquired before the elephant species was listed in the CITES Appendices (1975 for the Asian elephant and 1976 for the African elephant), or ivory specimens from elephants that were bred in captivity may be exported with the issuance of a Certificate instead of an export permit. Commercial import of these specimens is allowed without the issuance of an import permit.

For all populations, with the exception of tourist souvenirs from Appendix I elephant populations, the exemption for personal household items applies and no CITES permits are required for the international transport of these items.

Canada currently implements these provisions with some stricter measures as outlined below.

Stricter measures: Although the basic CITES provisions do not include stricter measures for elephant ivory, the Conference of the Parties has procedures in place to ensure that elephant populations are sustainably managed and to reduce international illegal trade and illegal killings in elephant range states. Those procedures are the Monitoring of Illegal Hunting of Elephants (MIKE), the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) and the National Ivory Action Plan process (NIAP).

CITES has also recommended that all Parties and non-Parties in whose jurisdiction there is a legal domestic market for ivory that is contributing to poaching or illegal trade, take all necessary legislative, regulatory and enforcement measures to close their domestic markets for commercial trade in raw and worked ivory. This recommendation also recognizes that narrow exemptions to this closure for some items may be warranted when they do not contribute to poaching or illegal trade.

As stricter domestic measures, Canada requires an import permit prior to entry into Canada of all ivory specimens of Appendix I listed species, including those specimens that are pre-convention or from elephants bred in captivity, unless they qualify for the personal and household exemption. Canada also currently issues export or re-export permits instead of certificates for specimens that are pre-convention or bred in captivity.

Monitoring of Illegal Hunting of Elephants (MIKE)

The most recent report from MIKEFootnote 4 (2019) indicates that poaching levels in Africa increased starting in 2006 and peaked in 2011. This was followed by a slow but steady declining trend up to 2018. The MIKE report advises caution in interpreting the recent decline in poaching levels, as there have been continental declines in elephant numbers over the same period. Poaching remains of particular concern in Central Africa and West Africa, which account for 6%, and 3%, respectively, of the African elephant population. Declines observed in poaching levels may reflect, in part, decreasing numbers of elephants, and increasing natural mortality from drought, the latter is suspected in Eastern Africa. Poaching levels in Asia have experienced some fluctuation but have been relatively constant since 2006. The report notes that human-elephant conflict is an important element of illegal killing for this species. Canada is not an elephant range state and is therefore not involved in this monitoring process.

Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS)

The most recent report from ETISFootnote 5 (2019) report indicates an increase in illegal trade, starting in 2008 and peaking 2015, particularly for large pieces of raw ivory. Organized crime is implicated in both poaching and illegal trade. Data for 2016 and 2017 suggest incremental reductions in illegal trade from the 2015 peak but data for 2017 was incomplete. The ETIS report also analyzed illegal trade for individual countries to identify countries in which illegal trade or illegal transit were particularly serious over the period from 2015-2017. Canada was grouped with Austria, Switzerland, Spain, Australia and New Zealand as not generally involved in significant illegal ivory trade. Most seizures in these countries involve worked ivory in trade as personal items, which are not linked to large scale movements associated with organized crime. More specifically, most seizures of ivory specimens imported into Canada involve personal items without the necessary permits.

Twenty-eight countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States of America were identified as having higher levels of illicit trade from 2015-2017.

National Ivory Action Plan (NIAP)

The ETIS report identifies countries that should participate in the NIAP process. These countries must develop a NIAPFootnote 6 that addresses the concerns identified in the ETIS report through legislation and regulations, enforcement action and inter-agency collaboration at the national, regional and international level, outreach, public awareness, education and reporting. Countries that are not making progress with the development and implementation of their plans may be subject to compliance measures, including a recommendation to suspend trade. Canada has never been identified by ETIS for participation in the Ivory Action Plan process.

Current ivory trade in Canada

Canada's import of elephant ivory is lowFootnote 7 compared to the global trade in elephant ivory. Most elephant ivory imported into Canada is Appendix I pre-Convention ivory and includes antique pianos, bagpipes, chess sets and carvings as commercial or non-commercial trade. Legal, non-commercial trade could include elephant ivory moving between countries as part of a household move such as in a piano with elephant ivory keys, elephant ivory tusks acquired in a legal hunt, and elephant ivory used for scientific research. A smaller portion of Canada’s legal, non-commercial ivory trade includes hunting trophies that originate from legal, sustainable harvest of African elephant populations that may be listed in either Appendix I or Appendix II.

There are two main categories of elephant ivory traded to and from Canada, raw ivory and worked ivory. As defined by CITES, raw ivory means “All whole elephant tusks, polished or unpolished and in any form whatsoever, and all elephant ivory in cut pieces, polished or unpolished and howsoever changed from its original form, except for ‘worked ivory’”, and worked ivory means "Ivory that has been carved, shaped or processed, either fully or partially. This expression does not include whole tusks in any form, except where the whole surface has been carved".

Canada issues import (Appendix I only) or re-export permits (Appendix I and Appendix II) for raw ivory as a trophy resulting from a sport hunt, or as personal items (either inheritance or gifts). In the case of personal items, the whole or mostly whole tusks can be worked (fully carved, partially carved or minimally carved), unworked but mounted on a stand, or raw (as is). These tusks may have been in the family for a long time, or purchased or received as gifts while overseas. 

Some examples of worked items with ivory imported or re-exported from Canada:

When CITES permits are issued for import or re-export of worked ivory, it is typically the individual pieces of ivory that are counted and reported on the permit (when possible). Analysis on the quantity of ivory imported or exported from Canada can give the impression of large volumes of ivory, however the pieces are often small and decorative in nature. From 2015 to 2020, Canada issued 185 import permits and 214 export/re-export permits for elephant ivory.

Range of potential actions pertaining to trade controls in elephant ivory

This section summarizes the range of potential actions that Canada could consider pertaining international elephant ivory trade controls, including maintaining the status-quo, or increasing Canadian controls to include measures stricter than those required under CITES. It benefits from review of elephant ivory restrictions currently in effect in other countries, particularly the United States and the United Kingdom.  To note, this consultation does not apply to other elephant items. Canada will continue to apply the current CITES provisions pertaining to trade in non-ivory items such as elephant hair, skins and leather goods, and allow such trade with the appropriate import and export/re-export permits.

There are three categories of trade to be considered: (1) commercial trade, (2) non-commercial trade and (3) personal and household items that consist primarily of raw ivory tusks from hunting trophies, other forms of raw ivory, and worked ivory. These ivory specimens may have originated from elephants that were removed from the wild before the elephant species were listed on CITES (pre-Convention), after they were listed on CITES or from elephants that were bred in captivity. All of these factors will need to be considered when evaluating elephant ivory trade control options in Canada.

Commercial trade

CITES already prohibits commercial international trade in Appendix I species that were removed from the wild after the species was listed in CITES, including commercial trade in specimens of raw and worked elephant ivory. Commercial sale of Appendix II ivory from the populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe is strictly controlled by the Conference of the Parties. The last sale of raw ivory from these populations occurred in 2008. The only currently allowed commercial trade of elephant ivory involves specified specimens of Appendix II worked ivory and Appendix I pre-Convention raw or worked ivory (Note that there is no pre-Convention ivory that is considered to be Appendix II).

Canada already additionally requires an import permit for all pre-Convention ivory to allow monitoring of import into Canada.

The range of possible actions pertaining to commercial trade of elephant ivory that Canada could consider include:

Non-commercial trade

CITES provisions impose no restrictions, other than fulfilling CITES requirements for permitting, on non-commercial trade in elephant ivory specimens of species or populations listed in Appendix I or II.  Non-commercial trade includes the raw or worked tusks from Appendix I or II sport-hunted elephants, movement of raw or worked ivory related to enforcement activities, scientific research, museum displays, musical instruments, gallery or educational institute.

Canada already requires an import permit for all Appendix I ivory specimens allowing monitoring of import into Canada.

The range of possible actions pertaining to non-commercial trade of elephant ivory that Canada could consider include:

For hunting trophies

For other non-commercial movement related to enforcement activities, scientific research, display at a museum, musical instruments, gallery or educational institute:

Personal and household Items

This type of international trade involves the movement of personally owned elephant ivory items (under certain specific conditions) that is currently exempted from CITES controls in Canada. The specific conditions include international movement of personal baggage, a household move, an inheritance or items of Appendix II or III species purchased while abroad as a tourist souvenir.

The range of possible actions pertaining to personal and household items that Canada could consider include:

Next steps

The results of this consultation will help determine whether the Department will further pursue potential stricter trade controls to address the global concerns in elephant ivory trade. The Department will carefully consider all comments received before proposing policy or procedure changes or amendments to the Act or Regulations (WAPPRIITA/WAPTR).

Following the analysis of the results of this consultation, should it be determined that regulatory amendments to WAPTR are required, Canadians will be further consulted through the pre-publication of any proposed amendments to WAPTR in the Canada Gazette, Part I.

Should it be determined that legislative amendments to WAPPRIITA are required, further discussions with partners and stakeholders would be undertaken prior to moving forward with any amendments to the Act.

Contact information

Interested Canadians are invited to provide written comments on this discussion document during a 60-day comment period, which will end on September 22, 2021.

Please send your comments to the following address.

E-mail: ReglementsFaune-WildlifeRegulations@ec.gc.ca

ECCC welcomes the further distribution of this document.

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