Urban Eels Wins National and International Planning Awards

Awards & NZPI Planning Quarterly February 2022

Such a great start to 2022! I’m delighted to share with you that “Urban Eels: Our Sustainable City” received the New Zealand PIanning Institute Rodney Davis Project Award 2021 and won the Commonwealth Association of Planners (CAP) Award for Conservation of the Built and Natural Environment and Cultural Heritage, announced at the Malaysia City Expo November 2021.

NZPI kindly invited me to provide an article on Urban Eels for their Planning Quarterly magazine – and so I put pen to paper over the Summer holiday! And here it is – “Reweaving Nature into Our Cities” features in Planning Quarterly February 2022! I discuss the project, the place, the people and the process that brought Urban Eels to fruition. I hope it provides some good food for thought and inspires others to share their ideas and chase their dreams too! Thanks to NZPI and the PQ editorial team for their encouragement and their stunning presentation of the article.

Read the Planning Quarterly article

Watch Urban Eels video

Read “Urban Eels: Our Sustainable City” Implementation Plan (2018)

Urban Eels Dawn Blessing

On 31st July we held a dawn blessing for “Urban Eels: Our Sustainable City”. Together, we have created a new space within our urban fabric to reconnect with nature and share and experience Tikanga Māori. Feeling grateful and honoured to have shared this journey with so many inspiring people.

Mihimihi / speeches – Fiona Gordon

“Tēnā kotou [good morning],

Urban Eels is a very special place.

Today is a very special day.

Both mark the success of a truly collaborative project.

But it was not always a project.  It started as an idea.  It blossomed into a four-year journey.  Now, it has become a destination for everyone to enjoy.

Urban Eels was only able to develop and grow because of the people.  Those people brought their skills, their knowledge, their time, their energy, and their resources to the table – along with a big dose of passion and persistence and, importantly, a shared vision.

Together, we have created a sanctuary for tuna [eel].  A place that tells us of the enduring relationship between man and tuna. 

It is a place for us to reconnect with nature and to share and experience Tikanga Māori – philosophies and practices.  These, in my mind, are essential components for the development of a wider sustainability practice in New Zealand.

There are so many people to thank today, most of whom have already been acknowledged by previous speakers. However, I do wish to say a very special thank you to two people in particular, Paul Horton and Danielle Harris of Tanenuiarangi Manawatū Incorporated.

I feel both honoured and extremely grateful that Tanenuiarangi Manawatū Incorporated allowed me the opportunity to partner with them on this journey to bring Urban Eels to life.

Thank you to all who have contributed to and supported our journey together.







Ngā mihi.

Link to “Urban Eels: Our Sustainable City” Implementation Plan

Covid-19 and New Zealand’s Role in the Global Illegal Wildlife Trade

Covid19 and NZ illegal wildlife trade

By Fiona Gordon – Environmental Policy Analyst & Ambassador to the Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand

The pandemic which has sent countries into lock down and wiped billions from economies has refocused attention on the illicit trade of wild animals.  From pangolin scales to primate skulls, elephant ivory and tiger bone the wildlife products arriving at New Zealand’s border provide an insight into the truly global extent of the illegal trade in wildlife.

Scientists say the coronavirus (SARS CoV-2) that causes Covid-19 most likely originated in bat populations.  Somewhere along its evolutionary path it probably jumped to an intermediary host animal before acquiring its ability to infect humans. As it forges a path of misery around the globe it is exposing our inadequacies – those of national health systems, international agreements, and ultimately our conservation efforts.

Wild animals can naturally carry potentially harmful bacteria, parasites, fungi and viruses including coronaviruses. It is when these jump to humans—called a spillover event—that they can cause illnesses, known as zoonotic diseases.

Fortunately for us, intact and healthy ecosystems tend to provide a kind of natural firewall between humans and zoonotic diseases.

There are literally hundreds of coronaviruses circulating among animals such as pigs, camels, bats and cats. Of the seven coronaviruses known to affect people, three have emerged from their animal reservoirs to cause serious and widespread human illness and death in just the last two decades: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012 and now Covid-19.

Humankind has now poked so many holes in nature’s firewalls that coronaviruses can now just walk right on through. From the destruction of forests to our relentless encroachment into pristine habitats – in our failure to conserve the natural world, we have failed ourselves as well.

The stand-out failure though has to be our ongoing inability to halt the illegal wildlife trade. By default and by association, we’ve also failed to control the legal international wildlife trade effectively.  Concerns are now being raised that the shortcomings of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which regulates international wildlife trade could even expose us to the next pandemic.

At a recent IUCN Commission on Environmental Law webinar event, John Scanlon AO, former Secretary-General to CITES, explained that “CITES does not regulate the way the wildlife is harvested, handled, or stored in the source state, or how it’s handled, stored, sold or consumed in the destination state.” He said that, “captive breeding facilities, which now account for close to 60% of trade in animals, are not assessed by CITES on public health grounds. Yet all of these activities can pose a risk factor for the emergence of zoonotic diseases.”

Despite aiming to regulate international trade, as Scanlon points out, CITES does not create enforcement authorities or require illegal trade to be criminalized, and it is not a natural forum for police and other enforcement officials.

Such shortcomings are perhaps best illustrated by CITES’ inability to end wildlife crime, which is estimated to be the world’s fourth biggest illegal trade. A pertinent example is that of the pangolin, which has been suggested as a potential intermediary host of Covid-19, although research is so far inconclusive.  Despite being afforded the highest-level of protection under CITES, the illegal trade in these scaly anteaters is at a record high, according to Scanlon.

With the unenviable reputation of being the most heavily trafficked wild mammal in the world it should be no surprise that pangolin body parts arrive in New Zealand too.

Between 2017 and 2018 official data show 12 occurrences of seizure or surrender (seizure records) of items consisting of pangolin body parts – a total of about 152 individual items including sachets of whole and powdered scales, bags of raw ingredients, tea bags and soup, a medicine ball, packets of tablets and pills, and a necklace containing a pangolin claw/foot. Most of the items arrived from China.

These products represent only a minute portion of the more than 18,000 seizure records of CITES listed wildlife over the same two year period.  About 65% of the seizure records are for corals and shells, another 8% are for the roots of plants, and a further 11% are for meat – typically crocodile and alligator meat, but also featuring minke whale, dolphin meat, bear, turtle and python meat.

Table 1:

*Seizure Records include records of seizure and records of surrender.

Data Source: New Zealand CITES Illegal Trade Report 2017 and 2018, provided by Department of Conservation, New Zealand. Graph Source:  Data analysis, summary and graph produced by Gordon Consulting, New Zealand.

Medicines make up a further 7% of the seizure records, over half of which are for Saussurea Costus, an endangered flowering thistle.  Other have been made from the body parts of animals such as Saiga Antelope, Musk Deer, leopard, tiger, bears (including bear bile), primates, turtles, pangolin and snakes. Other products include leather products, elephant ivory and feet, and the skulls, teeth and claws of leopard, bears, and lynx.

It makes for a gruesome shopping list and it is worthwhile recalling that each seizure record can and often does consist of multiple individual items – sometimes hundreds and even thousands of items.  About 5% of the seizure records represent more than 69,000 individual items made from wildlife considered to be threatened with extinction. Listed on CITES Appendix I, these are the most endangered species of all those listed under CITES and international trade is prohibited, except for exceptional cases.  The remaining seizure records are almost entirely for species listed on Appendix II.  These are species not necessarily now threatened with extinction, but they could become so if trade is not closely controlled.  This is not a mere numbers game.

So, how do all these wildlife products get to New Zealand?  By far the majority of seizure records are related to airports, in particular Auckland Airport situated within the country’s largest city. Data further indicate that 64% of the seizure records are associated with New Zealand citizens and 32% are associated with visitors.

Table 2:

*Seizure Records include records of seizure and records of surrender.

Data Source: New Zealand CITES Illegal Trade Report 2017 and 2018, provided by Department of Conservation, New Zealand. Graph Source:  Data analysis, summary and graph produced by Gordon Consulting, New Zealand.

Table 3:

*Seizure Records include records of seizure and records of surrender.

Data Source: New Zealand CITES Illegal Trade Report 2017 and 2018, provided by Department of Conservation, New Zealand..Graph Source:  Data analysis, summary and graph produced by Gordon Consulting, New Zealand.

It is a depressing picture and one that exemplifies the truly global extent of the illegal wildlife trade.  On a positive note, New Zealand has introduced an instant infringement fine system for offences relating to the international wildlife trade, which is a useful enforcement tool in addition to prosecution options.  The Government is also due to announce the results of the 2019 review of the Trade in Endangered Species Act, the key national piece of legislation relating to the international trade in endangered species, which included an option to ban New Zealand’s domestic trade in elephant ivory.

Along with regulation and law enforcement, demand reduction strategies form part of the package needed to combat wildlife crime effectively. With such a rich database at its fingertips, the New Zealand Government is well positioned to develop targeted strategies which aim to shift purchasing preference and buyer behaviour away from illegal wildlife products.  Former Prime Minister Helen Clark says, “It is vital that New Zealand strengthens its vigilance against this vile illicit trade, and not become a weak link in the chain of global efforts aimed at stopping it.”

Scanlon urges that we all “finally grasp the nettle with wildlife crime” and recognise the massive impacts wildlife crime has on economies, ecosystems, public and animal health, security, and people.

“The risks of future wildlife-related pandemics are real, and the stakes are high,” he says, “preventing them requires bold reforms to wildlife crime and trade laws. Making these reforms rests with countries. Now is the time to present them with viable options and a broad alliance of organisations has come together to do just that under the banner Global Initiative to End Wildlife Crime.

“I am delighted to Chair the Initiative,” says Scanlon, “which is advocating for and offering technical support to create a new international agreement on wildlife crime and to amend existing international wildlife trade laws to include public health and animal health into decision making.”

The risks of future wildlife-related pandemics can come from unregulated, regulated, and illegal wildlife trade. This is a matter for every nation to be far more cognisant of in the wake of Covid-19.

Published: Journal of African Elephants 


By Fiona Gordon – Director of Gordon Consulting and an Ambassador to the Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand.

The meeting of Parties to the Convention on International trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Geneva this week marks almost 3 years since CITES agreed for the first time in its history that national ivory markets contributing to poaching or illegal trade should be closed.

The historic decision stemmed from grave concerns over continued poaching of elephants for their ivory and the acknowledgement that legal domestic markets provide cover for criminals to launder illegal ivory. Concerns that remain the focus of discussions at CITES Conference of Parties over the next couple of days.

Fortunately, domestic ivory markets are steadily closing. The United States, France, China and the United Kingdom have now closed theirs and Hong Kong is set to follow suit in 2021. Last week Singapore announced it will also close its market – an announcement that came shortly after Singapore authorities made a record haul of 8.8 tonnes of illegal ivory seized in transit between Democratic Republic of the Congo and Vietnam.

Bucking this strong international trend however is New Zealand, whose domestic ivory trade remains devoid of any internal regulations and alarmingly appears to have increased dramatically since 2016.

A recently completed 10 month survey of just two New Zealand auction houses found over 800 ivory items for sale, more than double the number found for sale at four New Zealand auction houses during a 9 month survey reported in 2016.

The number of auctions offering ivory for sale appears to have increased by 60 percent and at one New Zealand auction alone a swathe of ivory carvings disappeared out the door for around NZD $10,000 (USD $6,600).  A large proportion of the ivory items found for sale were entirely made of ivory, including carvings, okimonos and netsukes.

The observed increase in trade adds much weight to the calls of more than 40,000 people in support of campaigns led by the Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand and African Wildlife Foundation asking the New Zealand government to shut its domestic ivory trade down.

“It is  very disturbing to learn of the steep increase in the amount of ivory for sale in New Zealand,” said Former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Former UNDP Administrator, Rt. Honourable Helen Clark,  “I support a ban on its sale along the lines introduced by the Government of the United Kingdom. New Zealand must not be a weak link in international efforts to curb the ivory trade which is responsible for the slaughter of elephants.”

Both auction houses surveyed are registered auctioneers under New Zealand’s Auctioneers Act 2013 which requires records to be maintained, including descriptions of property offered for sale.  Surprisingly, few of the catalogue descriptions for each of the ivory items offered for sale included statements, let alone any verifiable evidence, regarding their age or source.

Any assumption that all ivory on New Zealand’s domestic market must be antique, simply doesn’t hold true either. Two convictions for illegal trade involving thousands of dollars-worth of ivory have already illustrated how illegally imported ivory can easily be traded on New Zealand’s domestic market under the guise of legality.

Further, thousands of elephant ivory carvings, ivory pieces and tusks have been legally imported into New Zealand since the 1989 international trade ban for non-commercial purposes.  Over 60 per cent of these imported ivory items are noted as being sourced from the ‘wild’ or of ‘unknown’ source.  Most of this ivory arrives from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and some from Mozambique or it is re-exported from Great Britain and Australia.

New Zealand’s Department of Conservation confirm that any ivory legally imported after the 1989 ban can legitimately be sold on New Zealand’s domestic market.   Even items specifically imported for non-commercial purposes have no restriction placed on their future sale.

“There is no question that the domestic ivory markets in countries like New Zealand and elsewhere continue to fuel corruption and poor governance, plus the wanton killing of elephants in Africa,” says Kaddu Sebunya, Chief Executive Officer of African Wildlife Foundation.

“There isn’t enough ivory in the world to satisfy current demand”, says Sebunya, “so as long as a market exists for ivory, you can be sure that an elephant somewhere is dying to sustain it. Elephants need their ivory, and the world needs elephants. We, at African Wildlife Foundation, will continue to call for the closure of all ivory markets and to speak up for elephants, which need our protection today more than ever.”

With the reported increased activity on the domestic ivory market, no domestic trade regulations and two convictions for illegal trade in ivory, it remains difficult to see how New Zealand is implementing the CITES 2016 decision urging domestic ivory trade closures.

In a positive move, the New Zealand delegation to the 2018 London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade made a formal commitment to “assess the need for regulation of New Zealand’s domestic ivory trade”.

About the Author:

Fiona Gordon is a New Zealand based environmental policy analyst and an Ambassador to the Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand.  She has undertaken research into the international and domestic ivory trade since 2014. Fiona was principal researcher and co-author of the 2016 report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) “Under the Hammer” which provided the results of the first ever investigation into the nature of the auction house trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn in Australia and New Zealand.



JUNE 2019

“Stealing Their Future” 

Fiona Gordon

On her whistle stop “Rewind the Future” tour of New Zealand, internationally renowned conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall tells me that she has met many young people who have lost hope in the future and have become apathetic.  Dr. Goodall then makes a poignant point “we haven’t been borrowing our childrens’ future, we have been stealing it, and we are still stealing it today.”

Indeed, it’s impossible to ignore the science and yes, it’s depressing.  Climate change and biodiversity loss has placed us all smack-bang in the middle of a planetary emergency.

The recent report on global biodiversity from the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has made it clear that nature is humanity’s most important life-supporting ‘safety net’ and that ‘safety net’ is stretched almost to breaking point.

Unfortunately the messages in the Environment Aotearoa 2019 report from the Ministry for the Environment largely mirror this international assessment.

Our own ecosystems are in crisis.  Almost 4,000 of our native species are at risk or threatened with extinction.

Horizons Regional Council’s State of Environment Report 2019 released on 28 May, notes that almost all the river water monitoring sites in our region fail water quality criteria for phosphorus, bacteria and clarity.  Only 500 of the 1,109 biodiversity remnants have been ‘visited and evaluated’.  We can also expect changes to annual average rainfall, reduced summer river flows in the Manawatu and a faster programme of work to offset changes to river sedimentation due to climate change.

We can slice and dice the information any which way we choose but we get the same result:  a paradigm shift is required.  Remaining deniers need to step aside.

For far too long so called ‘greenie’ issues have been relegated to the ‘tree huggers’ and the ‘sock-and-sandal-wearers’.

This convenient deflection has no doubt provided short term economic benefits, but the reality is that this approach hasn’t worked for any of us.  Mainstreaming environmental priorities into our everyday decision making is now a necessity, for people and planet.

Enter, hope.  Our kids have found their voice and apathy is turning into action.  Youth have the smarts – they ‘get’ what the majority of previous generations chose to ignore – without nature we are all doomed.  So, how can we support this generation so ready and willing to right this ship?

It clear that central and local government actions alone will not be enough to reverse environmental decline.  Collaboration and partnership across all sectors of society will be key to addressing biodiversity loss and climate change.

Fortunately, new coalitions are emerging.  I was heartened to watch as Dr. Goodall endorsed and signed the Aotearoa Deal for Nature on 23 May, an unprecedented agreement across six of Aotearoa’s non-governmental organisations, the Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand, Forest & Bird, WWF NZ, Greenpeace NZ, the Environmental Defence Society, Environment and Conservation Organisations of Aotearoa (ECO).

It’s an ambitious plan setting out minimum priorities and actions for protecting and restoring New Zealand’s imperilled wildlife and environment.  Such agreements provide a much needed sliver of hope amongst all the doom and gloom of recent environmental reporting.

Op-Ed Published in Manawatu Guardian 6 June 2019

Guardian 6 June 2019

New Zealand Government Assessing Need for Ivory Trade Regulations

By Fiona Gordon – Director of Gordon Consulting and an Ambassador to the Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand.

Five fishermen casting their rods, two hauling in their nets, six seated buddhas, intricate pagodas and an army of miniature immortals. There’s perhaps one hundred of them in total.  Each a lifeless creamy white, sitting silently on their un-unique wooden bases.  Some look remarkably similar, almost identical.  Some appear just like the ones at another antique shop a few hundred kilometres away.  So similar in fact that one could be forgiven for thinking they might be from the same artist or manufacturer.

Only one of them is noted as ‘antique’.  There’s no reference to age whatsoever for the rest. They don’t sit for long inside their glass display cabinets. The ivory at one New Zealand auction alone soon disappears out the door for around NZD $10,000 (USD $6,600).

It is a matter of opinion as to whether the purchase price is extortionate or not, but these little ivory trinkets were undoubtedly obtained through lethal extortion.  Whether 100 years ago or yesterday, the African elephant brutally slaughtered for her ivory tusks would not have been compliant, she would not have willingly given her life. Nor that of her baby’s, killed for her tiny tusks or to draw in the rest of the herd or left to die of stress and starvation.

The African elephant was listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1976 after it was observed that the international trade in ivory was drastically reducing their population. Even with international regulation on trade, elephant populations continued to crash. The situation was so dire that in 1989 CITES put in place a total ban on the international commercial trade in ivory.

Since the 1989 ban thousands of elephant ivory carvings, ivory pieces and tusks have been legally imported into New Zealand for non-commercial purposes.  Surprisingly, CITES data shows that over 60 per cent of these imported ivory items are not noted as pre-1976 (pre-Convention), instead noted as being sourced from the ‘wild’ or of ‘unknown’ source.  Most of this ivory arrives from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and some from Mozambique or it is re-exported from Great Britain, Australia.

While clearly imported specifically for non-commercial purposes, according to New Zealand’s Department of Conservation, any ivory legally imported after the 1989 ban can legitimately be sold on New Zealand’s domestic market.   This is irrespective of the purpose listed on the import permit, as that purpose relates to the reason for the item entering New Zealand at the time of import. The Department confirms that no restriction is placed on the future sale of the specimen.

This would seem to fly in the face of the 1989 international trade ban and an unsuspecting New Zealand public would likely be horrified to learn that their domestic market could well include ivory from recently killed elephants.

According to the Chief Executive Officer of the African Wildlife Foundation(AWF), Kaddu Sebunya, “Africa has only about 460,000 elephants left. The ivory trade is fuelled by demand in countries such as New Zealand and it is deeply disappointing that the market for ivory is thriving. It’s time that the New Zealand government outlawed the sale of all ivory and gave African elephants a chance.”

These matters fall on the deaf ears of New Zealand auction houses who cleanse their conscience by protesting that they deal in ‘old’ ivory and are operating within the law.  They explain that they can tell the age of an ivory item due to their years of experience. They explain that the ivory they sell is collected from various sources including estate sales and second hand shops within New Zealand.  They explain that artist signatures on ivory items indicate a ‘finer example’ and will typically command a higher price, but are not necessarily related to a particular period or date. They comment that they rarely undertake research into such matters.

With such confidence it is surprising then that New Zealand auction houses rarely provide any statement, let alone any verifiable evidence, as to the age or source of the ivory they sell or note the name or history of the artist that produced the so-called ‘beautiful pieces of art’.  With or without such statements, auction houses command between 15% – 35% plus tax on the hammer price of every lot sold via vendor commission and buyer premiums.

In any case, should an auction house choose to make a statement as to the age or source of the ivory for sale,  their policies ensure that neither they nor the seller are responsible for the correctness of any statement as to the authorship, origin, date, age or provenance of any lot.  Any statements they provide are ‘statements of opinion’ and are ‘not to be relied upon as statements of representations of fact’.  Potential buyers are required to ‘satisfy themselves by inspection or otherwise’ as to such matters.

Any inquiry by Department Officers will likely go around in circles.  Without domestic ivory trade regulations, officers must first hold reasonable grounds to believe an item has been illegally imported before being able to investigate, request documentation or other evidence relating to the trade.

With little more than a photo in a catalogue to base any judgement on and where ivory appears to be of ‘a type commonly traded and imported’, there can be little to suggest an item has been illegally imported.  Where inquiries are made and should it transpire that the ivory was purchased locally prior to being listed for sale at the auction house, the Department will likely be satisfied that the items were ‘legally obtained’.

According to Sebunya, “New Zealand is a classic example of how legitimizing some aspects of ivory trade opens doors for illegal trade as well. We will continue to lose African elephants unless governments get serious about completely outlawing ivory trade thus crushing demand.”

Indeed it is not just plausible but fact that thousands of dollars-worth of illegally imported ivory has already slipped through New Zealand’s border, some of which was sold on the domestic market under the guise of legality.

New Zealander and Past Chair of African Wildlife Foundation, David Thomson, says,“New Zealand has the reputation as a world leader in conservation of its land, forests, bird life and oceans and our conservationists are respected worldwide.”  Thomson considers that, “as an international participant in conservation and a respected signatory of CITES we should be monitoring the trade in all wildlife products, especially ivory and rhino horn.”  He adds, “it should not be difficult to add clarity to our regulations about the import and trade of ivory and it should be an obligation of our justices to prosecute the trade of illegal wildlife parts. We are stringent in applying the law if a native species is abused and we need to join hands with our international community to do likewise.”

In a positive move, the New Zealand delegation to the 2018 London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade made a formal commitment to “assess the need for regulation of New Zealand’s domestic ivory trade”.

For a country renowned for its conservation acumen, thousands of people are saying it is way past time for New Zealand to sharpen up its act.  Every domestic ivory market only serves to fuel demand and undermines the considerable resources being invested on the ground in Africa to protect her elephants from slaughter.

They stand there quietly, perhaps 30 of them.  Each stunningly unique, with their individual personalities, memories, histories and family bonds.  Intelligently caring for each other, sharing knowledge of waterholes and feeding grounds with their dependent young.  Some will move along ancient corridors only at night now, afraid to travel during the day, least the poachers see their tusks. They are Africa’s elephants. They are priceless.  They are worth protecting.

About the Author:

Fiona Gordon is a New Zealand based environmental policy analyst and an Ambassador to the Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand.  She has undertaken research into the international and domestic ivory trade since 2014. Fiona was principal researcher and co-author of the 2016 report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) “Under the Hammer” which provided the results of the first ever investigation into the nature of the auction house trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn in Australia and New Zealand.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: Journal Of African Elephants 2nd May 2019

New Zealand ‘Called Out’ on Ivory Trade

Screen Shot 2019-04-10 at 6.47.35 PMFiona Gordon 10th April 2019

The Chief Executive Officer of the African Wildlife Foundation, Kaddu Sebunya, has called out New Zealand for maintaining its domestic ivory trade.  And it’s an utterly fair call.  Put simply, Africa’s elephant population remains under grave threat from the continued international demand for ivory and New Zealand can rightly be asked to clean up its act. 

“There is no [ivory] consumption on the continent [Africa],” says Sebunya, “so New Zealand, Japan, Europe and North America need to take on this responsibility.  The internationalization of issues means that we must all make choices to protect Africa’s wildlife.”

To date the New Zealand government has chosen to do very little, aside from officially voting in support of the closure of all domestic ivory markets at a meeting of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 2016.

But we haven’t “walked the talk”.  Our domestic ivory market remains completely unregulated, leaving us wide open to unscrupulous traders who launder illegally imported ivory under the guise of legality.   Not merely a possibility, this scenario was evidenced in 2015 with the second  conviction of a New Zealander for illegal trading in ivory.

Sebunya notes that in New Zealand, “carved ivory fetches high prices at auction houses and antique shops, and many items are re-exported under lax regulations and could re-enter the market, fueling demand.”

His assessment is spot on.  Late last year a New Zealand auction house sold approximately 110 ivory carvings for a total of just over NZD $10,000 (not including buyer premium) – at just one auction.

Sebunya explains why countries including New Zealand need to ban the domestic trade in ivory before it is too late for Africa’s elephants, “stopping ivory trade without international coordination is like squeezing a balloon — if the domestic market of one country closes, it bulges in another consumer country”.

New Zealand’s on-going inertia to close its ivory trade is an embarrassment and is in stark contrast to many other countries putting in place domestic bans for ivory, including China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom.

Pressure on New Zealand to take action is not new, but it is building.

The previous government received an Open Letter in 2014 asking the Government to fully consider stopping ivory trade.  In 2018 Prime Minister Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern and Department of Conservation Minister Hon Eugenie Sage received an open letter from the Jane Goodall Institute of New Zealand calling for a stop to domestic ivory trading.  The letter was signed by Dr. Jane Goodall, Kaddu Sebunya, Rt. Hon Helen Clark, Patron to the Jane Goodall institute New Zealand, international and national conservation agencies, and African based non-profits working to protect her elephants.

“In the midst of the 6th mass extinction and a human induced climate shift that threatens life as we know it, we must acknowledge responsibility, mobilise for action and work collaboratively.  These must become the new ‘currency’, if we are to make positive and global change” – Fiona Gordon 10 April 2019.

TAKE ACTION: Add your voice to the Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand No Domestic Trade campaign 

4 Oct 2018 OPEN LETTER – the Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand

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URBAN EELS – Bringing Nature to the People

Today, 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas.  With that proportion  expected to increase to 68% by 2050  it is clear that effective conservation will depend in large part on support from these urban voters, consumers, donors, and communicators.

Conservation then faces an obvious challenge: People living in cities have diminishing contact with nature.  We must look to create new, innovative and engaging ways to re-connect urbanites with nature.

Of course, many city dwellers already choose to seek out nature. Here in New Zealand, for example, we can choose to walk amongst the ancient forest of the Dusky Track in Fiordland National Park,  kayak the “sea of rippling waters” that is Lake Waikaremoana, or cycle the historical Otago Central Rail Trail – these are some of the wonderful trips I have been fortunate enough to personally enjoy.

I say fortunate, because while these experiences offer up much needed opportunities to re-connect and re-energise away from the hustle, bustle of the city, they do come at a price.  These adventures certainly didn’t happen for me without some careful planning and budgeting.  It can be difficult to take a week or two off work and not everyone can afford to travel great distances to these stunning locations.

Yet, crucially, future conservation success will need as many people as possible to appreciate their vested interest in it.  The true value of nature can be realised when it is both experienced and better understood.  This will require more contact, more often, by the majority of the people – the mainstreaming of nature back into our social, cultural, physical and economic landscapes.

Accessibility is key.  Time to bring nature to the people, not the other way around. 

What started as an idea to do just that, back in 2016, is now a fully fledged project set to be created within the city landscape of Palmerston North, New Zealand.

“Urban Eels: Our Sustainable City” will create a new space for nature within the urban fabric, making nature more accessible and providing interpretation and education though the expression of the Maori  world view. 

There will be native eels to observe and feed (if you dare), interpretive art work and sculptures and interactive features to enjoy, along with enhanced native planting and improved in-stream habitat.   All uniquely focused on the enduring relationship between man and tuna (eel)  and the importance of ritenga (customary practice), tikanga (customary system, law) and Rangitaanenuirawa (the expression of Kaitiakitanga or stewardship).

Māori are keen to express their cultural world views, and understanding these beliefs and values represents an important aspect of sustainable development in New Zealand.

For a people who relied on seasonal foods, tuna (eel) was a gift from the gods.  Tuna maintain a special place in Māori culture and are an important part of preserving the practice of cultural traditions.  Sadly, the longfin eel (tuna kawharuwharu or tuna reherehe) is in steady decline due to the historical destruction and degradation of its habitat.  Historically, long-finned eels were reported as weighing as much as 40 kg yet today tuna bigger than 10 kg are uncommon.

While tuna still inhabit our local streams, declining populations mean few people readily encounter tuna and some even consider them “scary”.  Urban Eels will not only create an improved space for tuna, but help to re-connect urbanites with nature, enable Māori to express their cultural world view and help to educate and re-acquaint people with the enduring relationship between man and tuna.

Intended to attract purposeful visitation and encourage the ‘incidental immersion’ of commuters alike, Urban Eels is strategically located at the Turitea Stream along the He Ara Kotahi – a shared pathway which forms a key route in Palmerston North’s urban transport network, connecting Linton Military Camp, Massey University and FoodHQ to the city.

Urban Eels is a collaboration between Gordon Consulting and Tanenuiarangi Manawatū Incorporated, the mandated iwi authority for Rangitaane O Manawatu since 1989, and working in partnership with central and local government and other key organisations.  Urban Eels draws it’s inspiration from the IUCN Urban Protected Areas and work of the IUCN Urban Specialist Group.  


Urban Eel Signatories
Collaborative Partners
Urban Eels Sponsors

Australia and New Zealand – Letting Elephant and Rhino Down


With a lack of appropriate enforcement tools at the border and unregulated domestic markets, if you manage to get your ivory or rhino horn into New Zealand or Australia, you are home and hosed to make a killing.

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“Let’s get serious about wildlife crime.” “The future of Elephants is in our hands.” “Listen to the Young Voices.” These annual World Wildlife Day messages were brought home with the conclusion of the inaugural United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) 2016 World Wildlife Crime Report that all regions of the world play a role as a source, transit or destination for contraband wildlife.

The Report called for the introduction of national legislation to regulate the possession, use and sale of the most threatened wildlife products from other parts of the world. It offered potential solutions, including providing customs agents with the right tools to conduct international wildlife crime enforcement. Measures required as part of the multi-faceted strategy to combat wildlife crime, world wide.

Elephants and rhinoceros are our global flag ship species in the fight against international wildlife crime. The Great Elephant Census revealed an alarming 30% decline in Africa’s savanna elephant population over 7 years. Save The Rhino reported best estimates of only 30,000 rhinos survive in the wild at the end of 2015 and that nearly three rhinos were killed every day in South Africa in 2016 alone.

Media reports on ivory and rhino horn seizures and law enforcement focus on key source, transit and consumer nations, and righty so. However other countries are also harbouring the illegal trade.

Notably, the Pacific is increasingly becoming a source and transit region for illegal wildlife trafficking, where trade is “well organized by opportunistic criminal networks and unscrupulous traders”. In the heart of this region, New Zealand and Australia have more recently been implicated in the illegal trade of ivory and rhinoceros horn.

Wildlife seizures at the New Zealand border have more than doubled from 2,268 in 2011 to 5,809 in 2015. From a total of 19,221 seizures, eight prosecutions were brought under New Zealand’s Trade in Endangered Species Act (TIES Act). Two of these prosecutions were for the illegal importation of elephant ivory. No infringement fines were issued.

Australian Customs and Border Protection Services reportedly seize 7,000 wildlife items each year, mostly in the post and passenger environment. Hundreds of seizures of suspected elephant ivory and rhino horn products were made between 2010 and 2016. No infringement fines or prosecutions have been reported for wildlife offences under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Despite the high seizure rates New Zealand and Australia have no infringement fine mechanisms for offences related to the international movement of wildlife specimens. Commendably, in February this year, New Zealand introduced the Conservation (Infringement System) Bill, which will provide for infringement systems to be placed in the Trade in Endangered Species Act.

Border control is clearly the first line of defense. However, as seizures are only ever indicative of the real scale of an illegal trade, domestic regulations must provide the second – to effectively deal with the illegal trade of wildlife items that do slip through. And they do slip through.

A New Zealand man managed to illegally import some 20 ivory items, worth about USD$12,614, before being caught out when an African elephant tusk was detected at the international mail centre. Some of the illegally imported ivory had already been sold on the domestic market.

Australian police seized an estimated USD $63,000 worth of ivory on the domestic market in 2014 and Customs seized 100kg of ivory at Perth airport the following year. No fines or prosecutions in relation to either of these seizures have been reported to date.

The incentives for criminals seeking to launder illegally imported items are obvious. Thousands of ivory products are sold each year in Australia and New Zealand on domestic markets that remain completely unregulated. Ivory can fetch as much as USD $23,600 for a pair of tusks and USD $53,000 for a pair of rhino horns. With no legal requirements for sellers to provide any proof of the origin or age of these products, the vast majority of them are offered for sale without provenance information.

These gaps, in border enforcement and lack of domestic regulations, are precisely the gaps identified in the UNODC Report. In Australia and New Zealand, if you manage to get your ivory or rhino horn into the country, you are home and hosed to make a killing on the domestic market.

For the elephant and rhino, there is no room or time left for any gaps and “we are just a drop in the bucket” inertia. Last year the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) asked all nations with unregulated domestic markets in ivory and rhino horn to close or regulate their markets. A truly global response is being called for. As the two largest parties to CITES in the region, Australia and New Zealand have a clear mandate for action and an obvious opportunity to lead the way on this front.

Read original article: http://www.sabreakingnews.co.za/2017/09/12/australia-and-new-zealand-letting-elephant-and-rhino-down/

Read article at Conservation Action Trust: https://conservationaction.co.za/media-articles/australia-new-zealand-letting-elephant-rhino/