October 28, 2008

Namibia Auctions 108 Tons of Ivory

The sale of tons of elephant ivory in Namibia this week has conservationists concerned it may trigger widespread poaching of elephants.

The $1.18 million ivory sale in Namibia Monday was the first in almost a decade and several more auctions are to take place across the region in the coming weeks, The Times of London reported on its Web site Tuesday. In all, about 108 tons of ivory -- the equivalent to the tusks of 10,000 elephants -- are expected to be sold to Asian buyers, the Times said.

Ivory is primarily used in traditional medicines and to make ceremonial stamps in Asian countries. Widespread killing of elephants for their tusks has reduced their African population from 5 million in the 1930s to about 600,000 today.

Julian Newman of the Environmental Investigation Agency said the fear is the auctions could encourage poaching that "could easily drag us back to the dark and bloody days of the 1980s."

Michael Wamithi of the International Fund for Animal Welfare called the auctions of an "exorbitant amount" of ivory "just plain irresponsible."

Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa are being allowed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to hold the sales. The revenue is to be used for elephant conservation and anti-poverty programs, The Times said.

A wildlife trade monitoring group, Traffic, contends the auctions will be well-managed.