CITES Permits 60 Tons of Elephant Ivory to Be Sold

THE HAGUE, The Netherlands, June 4, 2007 (ENS) - The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES, Saturday approved exports of 60 tons of elephant ivory from Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa to Japan. The approval comes over the objections of many African elephant range states and conservation groups who say legal trade will give cover to ivory poachers.

The CITES Standing Committee approved the sales ahead of this week’s triennial CITES conference, which opened officially on Sunday.

Elephant in Botswana's Chobe National Park (Photo courtesy Botswana Tourism)
In a related but separate decision, the Standing Committee also decided that Japan has established sufficiently strong domestic trade control systems to be granted the status of trading partner allowed to import the approved ivory.

Botswana will be permitted to sell 20 metric tons of ivory, Namibia will sell 10 tons, and South Africa will sell 30 tons.

The stockpiles of ivory to be sold were gathered from elephants that died as a result of natural causes or were killed because they caused problems to human beings.

The exports from these three countries were agreed in principle in 2002 but were made conditional on the establishment of up-to-date and comprehensive baseline data on elephant poaching and population levels.

The CITES Standing Committee determined that this condition has been satisfied and that the exports may proceed.

"The CITES Secretariat will closely supervise these new exports and monitor future trends in elephant poaching and population levels throughout Africa," said CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers.

CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)

"By basing future decisions on reliable field data, CITES can develop an approach to elephant ivory that benefits states relying on elephants for tourism as well as those seeking income from elephant products in order to finance wildlife conservation," he said.

Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa have committed to, and are required by CITES to use the revenue derived from the sale exclusively for elephant conservation and community development programmes.

"Although we agree Japan has met the necessary requirements, we caution that the sale should be closely monitored. This would include an annual report to the CITES parties on levels of ivory going through the system in Japan to ensure early detection of potential problems or trends,” said Dr. Susan Lieberman, director of the WWF Global Species Programme.

But an investigative report into Japan's domestic ivory trade controls released last week by the International Fund for Animal Welfare details loopholes in the Japanese system that allow illegal ivory from elephants poached in the wild to be laundered in astronomical sums into the legal domestic ivory market.

"This decision is a disgrace in light of evidence that Japan clearly fails to meet the bar set by the CITES framework for such sales," said Peter Pueschel, program manager for IFAW's Protection of Wildlife from Commercial Trade program.

"The Standing Committee is disregarding this evidence just as it ignores that the 2.8 ton seizure of contraband ivory in Osaka in August of last year as if it never happened. This is slap in the face to CITES Parties who comply with CITES obligations."

CITES banned the international commercial ivory trade in 1989. Then, in 1997, recognizing that some southern African elephant populations were healthy and well managed, it permitted Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to make a one-time sale of ivory to Japan totalling 50 tons. This sale took place in 1999 and brought in US$5 million.

In 2004, requests by several southern African States for annual ivory quotas were not accepted by the Conference of the Parties to the Convention.

Today the elephant populations of southern Africa are listed in Appendix II of the Convention, which allows trade through a permit system, while all other elephant populations are listed in Appendix I, which prohibits all imports for commercial purposes.

The long-running global debate over elephants has focused on the benefits that income from ivory sales may bring to conservation and to local communities living side-by-side with large and sometimes dangerous animals, weighed against concerns that such sales may increase poaching.

Between August 2005 and August 2006, more than 26 metric tons of ivory were seized, and customs officials estimate that 90 percent of contraband products pass over borders undetected.

In May 2006, Hong Kong customs officials seized 600 ivory tusks similar to the ones pictured here, the largest ivory seizure in Hong Kong since 1989. (Photo courtesy IFAW)
Meanwhile, the price of ivory has skyrocketed in the past decade, from US$500 per kilo in Japan in 1994 to its current record price of US$850 per kilo.

Pueschel says the financial incentive to poach is the driving force behind the slaughter of at least 20,000 elephants annually, a situation that stands to impact on the balance of local ecosystems and communities' ability to survive.

"Europe, and Germany in particular given its seat as current EU President, must now take responsibility for the inevitable increase in the killing of both elephants and the humans charged to protect them," said Pueschel. "They should now be prepared to cover the expenses of enhanced enforcement that will be critical to responding to increases in poaching."

On Sunday, the day after the Standing Committee meeting, the 14th triennal Conference of the Parties the CITES Convention opened in The Hague.

The meeting will continue until June 15, and during that time delegates will consider 37 proposals to amend the CITES appendices.

Proposals deal with limitations on trade in elephants, cetaceans, Asian big cats, sharks and sturgeons.

There are proposals to list marine species such as the porbeagle shark, the European eel, and red and pink corals, as well as timber species such as cedar and rosewood.

"These proposals on lucrative marine and timber species mark a shift from purely commercial interests to recognizing conservation concerns," said Dr. Sue Mainka, head of the delegation of the IUCN-World Conservation Union to the CITES conference.

The IUCN publishes the Red List of Threatened Species, considered the world's most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of plant and animal species.

"With growing recognition that resources are decreasing, the big fish and timber industries are faced with including conservation concerns in their calculations," Mainka said.

Pau Brasil, Caesalpinia echinata, a slow growing wood species with striking blood-red heartwood is the national tree of Brazil. Initially used as a source of dye, it is now being harvested for manufacturing professional bows for violins, violas, cellos and double-bases. A single violin bow is estimated to cost up to US$5,000, using one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of wood.

The country of Brazil was named after the Caesalpinia echinata tree, commonly known in Brazil as pau brasil. (Photo courtesy Global Trees Campaign)
Research is now underway to determine if the bark of this tree can be used to treat cancer.

International trade and habitat loss have severely depleted this species, which is now found only in the Brazilian Atlantic Coastal Forest, a forest area now covering less than eight percent of its original extent.

Pau Brazil is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Brazil's proposal to include Pau Brazil in Appendix II of the CITES Convention would mean that all its derivates including musical instruments would become subject to CITES regulation, requiring musicians or orchestras to travel with CITES permits when they go on trips abroad.

"This beautiful timber is valued and used worldwide. No comparable substitute is known for the making of bows for string instruments and therefore demand is likely to remain high internationally," says Jane Smart, Head of the IUCN Species Programme.

The CITES Appendices

Appendix I - Species that are the most endangered are listed on Appendix I. They are threatened with extinction and CITES prohibits international trade in specimens of these species except when the purpose of the import is not commercial. In these exceptional cases, such as for scientific research, trade may take place provided it is authorized by the granting of both an import permit and an export permit.

Appendix II lists species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled.

Appendix III is a list of species included at the request of a Party that already regulates trade in the species and that needs the cooperation of other countries to prevent unsustainable or illegal exploitation.

To view a list of all proposals on the agenda for the 2007 CITES meeting, click here.

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