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Southern Africa Anxious to Resume Lucrative Ivory Trade

This week 160 states are meeting in Chile to decide whether five African states may break the international ban on ivory sales. Germany’s environmental minister has dismissed the proposal as “economic selfishness.”


Protecting animals on the endangered species list

Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia are calling for permission to break the ban against selling ivory at a meeting of the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Santiago, Chile, this week.

Since ivory sales were first stopped in 1989 elephant stocks have grown immensely in Africa. This is reason enough for the so-called African range states to be allowed to resume selling the tusks, the five countries argue. They say that elephants aren’t endangered at all, but rather the animals have become a plague, eating up farmers fields and trampling the countryside, villages and even people.

German Environmental Minister Jürgen Trittin, however, categorically rejects loosening the restrictions on the ivory trade. He called on the states participating in the convention to find a balance between economic interests and the protection of endangered species. “Only when the parties overcome their economic selfishness, will they be able to live up to their responsibility for the worldwide protection of endangered species,” he announced.

87 tons for sale

The proposals from the five southern African countries foresee the sale of an initial 87 metric tons of ivory and subsequent quotas of between two and five tons per year. Zambia is calling for permission for a one-off sale of 17,000 kilos of its elephant stock. The southern African states argue that ivory sales benefit local communities and animal conservation programs.

The German Environmental Minister is not alone in his opposition to the plans. The EU states have all agreed to oppose the African proposal, though they stopped short of supporting an absolute ban on ivory sales, which Germany favors.

For a worldwide ban

India and Kenya have taken the lead in this respect. The two countries have proposed that all African elephants be categorized under “Appendix I” of CITES, which prohibits international trade with listed species.

Currently the elephant populations in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe are listed under Appendix II, which merely calls for regulating trade in elephants and their tusks. Along with numerous environmental organizations, India and Kenya believe that the sale of ivory encourages poaching. India, in particular, is anxious to protect its small population of some 30,000 elephants.

So far there is no reliable data on how many tons of ivory are poached per year. Though CITES has set up programs to monitor the illegal killing of elephants and to track the animals, African governments lack the money and manpower to ensure that the animals are protected.

The UN conference, the 12th of its kind since CITES was adopted in 1973, will be dealing with other equally volatile issues, including a Japanese application to allow trade in bryde’s and minke whales. Participating states will debate proposals for the protection of whale sharks, basking sharks, sea horses and several types of turtles. The sharks’ fins are prized in Asian countries for cooking.

The conference runs from November 3-15.