October 28, 2008

Contentious Ivory Sale Resumes

For almost ten years, it has been illegal to sell ivory in southern Africa, but all that changes Tuesday.

The ivory trade was banned globally in 1989 because poaching was decimating elephant populations.

Namibia, Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe will auction more than 100 tons of ivory from stockpiles to buyers from China and Japan.

The money raised from ivory will go into elephant conservation projects.

Environmentalists say the move encourages poachers in Africa to kill elephants for ivory that can be fed into the illegal trade.

Following the last legal sale in 1999, data collected by the wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic shows that seizures of illegal ivory fell.
The secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the UN body that sanctioned the sale, says it will monitor trade in China and Japan to make sure companies are not mixing illegally sourced ivory with these legal shipments.

Internet site eBay banned virtually all products containing ivory after lobbying from animal welfare groups.

During the 2007 CITES meeting in The Hague, delegates agreed that enough precautions had been taken that the auction could go ahead, with Japan as the sole validated buyer.

This year, CITES also decided that China had acted against the illegal trade with enough enthusiasm that Chinese companies could also bid for a share of the stockpiled ivory.
This was contested by some environment groups, who noted Chinese controls remained relaxed.

"We are deeply concerned that these sales will open the floodgates to additional illegal trade," said Will Travers, CEO of the Born Free Foundation.

"For some inexplicable reason some people think that all elephant populations are adequately protected and thriving. Nothing could be further from the truth."

Elephant populations are considered to be declining in central and west Africa-areas affected by civil unrest.

In southern Africa, decades of protection and management have seen numbers rising by about 4% per year. However, conservation groups argue that elephants are safer if local communities benefit financially from looking after them; from eco-tourism or the sale of ivory from animals dying naturally.

The ivory sale is expected to bring in a whopping $30 million.

Namibia will be the first to auction its stockpile of nine tons on Tuesday, followed by Botswana's much larger disposal of 44 tons Friday.

The South African and Zimbabwean sales take place next week.

The CITES meeting that approved this sale also declared there should be no more for 10 years.


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