Victory for elephants as CITES says No to ivory stockpile sale

Thursday, 5 October, 2006
Conservationists, including IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare;, scored a major victory today when the Standing Committee of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, decided against allowing the one-off sale of 60 metric tonnes of stockpiled ivory – representing thousands of elephants – which would have placed endangered elephants in Africa and Asia under increased threat from poachers. However, a decision to approve Japan as an approved stockpile buyer was condemned for clearing the way for future sales.
Botswana, Namibia and South Africa were granted permission by CITES in 2002 to sell 60 tonnes of ivory stockpiles, despite widespread opposition by many governments and NGOs. The sale is dependent on certain conditions being met, including the effective monitoring of poaching, sufficient trade enforcement and the revenue being used for conservation and community development. International trade in ivory is currently banned under CITES.

The decision not to allow the sales came after concerns about the ability of the MIKE (Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants) monitoring system to provide sound and reliable information to support CITES decision-making. MIKE was established in 1997 to measure and record baseline levels and trends of illegal hunting of elephants, to monitor the effects of CITES decisions, and to build capacity in range states. Yet nine years after its inception, MIKE data is incomplete, unreliable and based on flawed assumptions. Furthermore, a number of large seizures in the past year amounting to almost 15 tonnes of ivory – most assuredly the proceeds of poaching - are not reflected in the data on elephant populations presented by MIKE to the committee.

Both China and Japan applied to be “trading partners” to purchase the stockpiles. In a controversial move, Japan’s application was approved today after heated discussions, despite evidence that the “one-off” stockpile sale to Japan in 1999 resulted in ivory markets spinning out of control in Asia.

Peter Pueschel, Program Manager for IFAW, said from Geneva: “Today’s decision not to allow the stockpile sale will be welcomed by all those involved in elephant conservation around the world, who fight a constant battle to protect elephants from ivory poachers. While we applaud the decision not to grant the sale at this time, we are incredibly concerned that the rubber-stamping of Japan as an importing country – despite all the evidence showing it has problems controlling its current ivory market – questions the credibility of CITES, which should take decisions based on precaution and facts.”

Questions were raised over the suitability of China and Japan to purchase the stockpiled ivory, after IFAW reports on the domestic control system in both countries revealed loopholes that allow illegal ivory to flow into the legal markets. For years both countries have been criticized for their thriving markets in illegal ivory. Much of the Japanese control system is based on voluntary information. It is also known that larger private stockpiles exist which are not registered and can be used to launder illegal ivory into the legal system.

Conservation groups are concerned that any relaxation in the ban on ivory will result in an explosion in both demand and supply of ivory, and a flooding of the market of both legal and illegal stocks. In real terms, this translates to tens of thousands of slaughtered elephants, critically endangering elephant species.

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