International ivory sale to be held for first time in decade

Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Cape Town, South Africa
For the first time in nearly 10 years, international trade in elephant ivory has been sanctioned by the UN-backed Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Approximately 119 tons (108 tonnes) of stockpiled ivory, the remnants of 10,000+ elephants, will be auctioned from four southern African nations beginning in two weeks.

The 57th session of the Standing Committee for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) ruled just months ago that China was fit to become a trading partner for the ivory, while Japan was previously approved. Both nations are known to be among the world’s largest illegal ivory markets. Several multiple ton seizures have been made at Chinese ports in recent years. The lack of enforcement for the registration systems in both countries also provides a convenient loophole for illegal traders.

“Even though the ivory was not obtained through illegal poaching activities, these legal sales only encourage poachers to launder their illegal stocks,” said Michael Wamithi, Program Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s (IFAW – www.ifaw.org) global elephants program and former director of the Kenya Wildlife Service.

The total amounts being auctioned are: Botswana ~44K kg; Namibia ~9K kg; South Africa ~51K kg; and Zimbabwe ~4K kg. Significant amounts of ivory in these stocks have been collected through culling which is itself a controversial means to control elephant populations.

“We have no doubt that flooding the market with over 100 tons of ivory will put this endangered species in even further jeopardy,” continued Wamithi. Throughout west and central Africa, isolated populations have actually been wiped out completely due to illegal hunting. If we do not take this trade seriously, we will surely continue see the demise of these majestic creatures – and sooner rather than later.”

Jason Bell-Leask, Regional Director for IFAW’s southern Africa office also expressed his disdain. “The international trade in ivory simply cannot be justified by a perceived short-term gain such as profits from these sales. Not only are elephants a keystone species, but African tourism relies on their existence. To toy with that is to toy with the livelihoods of the citizens within these poor African nations.”

IFAW’s 2007 China ivory trade poll report revealed the low awareness of the current ivory control system in China, and also citizens’ unwillingness to comply with this framework. According to the report, among the 14.5 per cent that were actually admitted consumers of ivory, 75.7 per cent would willingly violate the control system in order to obtain ivory at a cheaper price.

In 1989, CITES Parties listed the African elephant on Appendix I, effectively prohibiting all international trade in elephants and their derivatives, including ivory, but in 1997 this was resanctioned and certain populations were down-listed to Appendix II, allowing  trade with special permissions from CITES. These sales will be the second time in nearly two decades that the international sale in ivory has been authorized since the initial ban.

One year ago, a suspension of at least nine years on international elephant ivory trade was approved at the 14th meeting of the CITES Conference of the Parties. This trade ban is set to come into affect after the stockpiles sales are completed.

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