June 14, 2007

Cites - One-off sale by four Southern African nations

A UN forum has approved a landmark nine-year ban on international ivory trade to stem a surge in poaching that has killed up to 20.000 elephants per year. The ban will go into effect after the one-off sale by four southern African nations of government-held stock of elephant tusks. The exact amount of the stocks are in dispute, but may be 150 to 200 tonnes, according to Willem Wijnstekers, the Secretary General of the 171-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
The agreement, which breaks an 18-year deadlock and comes after weeks of sometimes fierce debate among African nations, was formally adopted by CITES almost immediately after it was submitted by Chad and Zambia "on behalf of Africa". "This African solution to an African problem marks a great step forward for wildlife conservation," said Wijnstekers. "It is good news for the elephants and the people who live alongside them."
At stake is the future of the world's largest land mammal, which once numbered in millions.
A century of hunting and poaching - which has increased sharply in the last six years - has reduced the African elephant population to approximately 500.000. Remaining herds are concentrated in southern Africa, with far smaller populations in some central and western African nations. Based on seizures, experts estimate that between 12.000 and 20.000 elephants are illegally killed every year to feed illicit markets concentrated in East Asia.
The one-off sale would cover ivory stocks in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe registered as of January 31. The money raised would go into conservation programmes. The Southern African nations initially opposed a moratorium on ivory trade, and had earlier sought annual export quotas. More than 20 other African nations, led by Kenya and Mali, came to CITES proposing a 20-year ban on all international commerce. They argue that limited trade simply encourages poaching and point to sharp increases in illegal commerce since occasional sales of ivory resumed in 1997 after an eight-year ban. The newly agreed upon sale will go to Japan, the only country authorised by CITES to purchase ivory. China, however, may also petition to be included in the sale. CITES refused a similar request by Beijing last week, but could reconsider its decision.
Between August 2005 and August 2006, 12 shipments of African ivory totalling more than 23 tonnes were seized en route to Asia, according wildlife enforcement officials. CITES banned international trade in ivory in 1989, but has since allowed several one-off sales of ivory stocks collected from animals dying of natural causes, including a sale of 60 tonnes approved last week. (The Namibian, Windhoek)

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