Campaigners say illegal trade could see African elephant extinct in a decade.

The Government is being urged to make an international gesture by destroying its stockpile of up to 800 confiscated ivory specimens, including elephant tusks, to help save the African elephant from extinction.

Campaigners say this country is not immune to the trade in "bloody ivory" or freshly poached ivory from endangered species, which was often sold to support crime and violence in unstable African nations.

A group of prominent New Zealand leaders and conservationists will deliver an open letter to the Government this week demanding New Zealand takes action against the legal and illegal ivory trade here and abroad.

A petition with 4000 signatures was also delivered to Parliament's foreign affairs committee in May.


Among the petition's requests were a ban on the ivory trade, supporting international measures to crack down on poaching, and heavier penalties for trading illegal ivory in New Zealand. Nearly 100 elephants are killed every day - a rate which could see the African elephant extinct by 2025.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) outlawed the global trade of ivory in 1989, but ivory bought before this date can be imported and exported in New Zealand with special permits.

It can also be bought and sold within the country without documentation about its origin.

The petition, submitted by Auckland author and teacher Virginia Woolf, said the Government should follow the example of other nations by crushing the ivory which had been confiscated in this country.

A report by environmental policy analyst Fiona Gordon, one of the backers of the campaign, said New Zealand authorities had seized 791 elephant specimens, 742 of them ivory products. This haul included 80 tusks, 564 carvings and other specimens such as teeth. Some of these appeared to have been stained to appear old or purchased before 1989.

Ms Gordon found New Zealand was a relatively big importer of ivory carvings and bought more specimens than the United States on a per capita basis.

She said: "We don't have elephants in our backyard ... but they're a globally iconic species. New Zealand does have a role to play and we can do more. We've got excellent enforcement at the border, but in terms of demand reduction, we're lacking.

"Banning the trade and crushing the ivory stockpile are two pretty non-controversial things we can do."


Foreign affairs committee chairman and National MP John Hayes said the petition was being considered.

The committee had sought official advice over the petition, including the potential destruction of the Government's ivory stockpile.

Ms Woolf noted that during her visit last month, conservationist Jane Goodall reminded New Zealanders that every ivory bracelet, pendant or trinket represented a dead elephant and a ban was the only way forward.

Terrible trade
1989 - The year trading of ivory was banned, but pre-ban specimens can be imported, exported and sold in New Zealand
50,000 - elephants killed for their tusks last year
791 - illegal specimens held by NZ Government, including tusks and teeth
49 - items seized in the past three years