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SOS Rhino : In the News : Current Rhino News : UN Meeting Allows First Legal Ivory Sales in Years

UN Meeting Allows First Legal Ivory Sales in Years

  Tue Nov 12,12:59 PM ET
By Alistair Bell

SANTIAGO, Chile (Reuters) - A U.N. meeting on endangered species eased a 13-year-old ban on the ivory trade on Tuesday, allowing southern African nations to sell elephant tusks in a ruling that angered environmentalists.

Delegates at the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, meeting in Chile voted to let Botswana and Namibia stage one-off sales of 30 tons of ivory from their stockpiles in 2004.

Trade in ivory was prohibited globally in 1989 after the number of African elephants plummeted to 600,000 from about 1.2 million in just over a decade.

Much of the ivory that would be sold comes from elephants that have died naturally. The countries would receive around $2 million to $3 million each from the sales.

Some populations have since recovered but not all African states with elephants support a return to the ivory trade. Kenya said even limited, regulated sales like those approved on Tuesday would encourage poaching.

"We are going to start seeing elephants getting killed. We are not exaggerating, you will see it. And not only elephants but you are going to lose lives of rangers, of poachers," A.O. Bashir, an official of the Kenya Wildlife Service, told Reuters in Nairobi.

The U.N. meeting was also set to give the go ahead for South Africa, Zimbabwe and possibly Zambia to sell ivory in similar one-off deals.

The United States drew fire from conservationists for backing a compromise deal which helped the southern African countries win Tuesday's vote.


The ivory exporters say they realize that conservation and strict controls are beneficial and vow there will be no return to wide-scale elephant slaughter.

"There are certain conditions attached to the trade. We made a point not to act against our own interests, which would be the case if there were poaching anywhere in Africa," Joe Matlhare, head of the Botswana delegation, told Reuters.

Ivory is prized in Asia where it is carved into expensive ornaments or name seals, known as "hankos" in Japan.

Animal rights activists point to a recent increase in hauls of illegal ivory, including a huge cache of six tons seized in Singapore in June, as evidence that poachers are becoming more active.

With U.S. encouragement, the southern African countries dropped a request to be allowed to hold ivory sales every year under a quota system.

"The United States has long portrayed itself as a leader in global conservation," said Adam Roberts, of the Species Survival Network

"Why they would offer a compromise allowing ivory trade instead of standing firm in support of America's opposition to trade in ivory is simply mystifying and unjustifiable," he said.

Tuesday's vote can be challenged at other sessions of the 160-nation CITES body later this week, but delegates said the ruling was very likely to stand.

The meeting last week blocked an effort by Japan to loosen an international ban on trading whale meat.



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