African Elephant Ivory Sales Allowed Before Renewed Ban

THE HAGUE, The Netherlands, June 14, 2007 (ENS) - Ministers from the African elephant range states have for the first time achieved a consensus on how to address the controversial issue of international trade in elephant ivory. Some trade will be allowed before a nine year ban is imposed under the agreement reached today at the conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES.

CITES banned the international commercial ivory trade worldwide in 1989. But some southern African elephant range states have sought to sell ivory from healthy and well managed herds, saying they need the proceeds for conservation. Other African range states and most environmentalists say that even legal trade in ivory will increase the poaching of elephants.

Under the compromise forged in the pre-dawn hours this morning, each of four southern African countries will be permitted to make a single sale of ivory in addition to the one-off sale totaling 60 metric tons that was agreed in principle in 2002 and given the go-ahead by the CITES STanding Committee on June 2.

Delegates from African elephant range states discuss their options at the Conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
The ivory for these new sales will consist of all government-owned stocks that have been registered and verified as of January 31, 2007. Each sale is to consist of a single shipment per destination and may only go to countries whose internal controls on ivory sales have been verified as being sufficient by the CITES Secretariat.

After these shipments have been completed no new proposals for further sales from these four countries are to be considered by CITES during a "resting period" of nine years that will begin as soon as the new sales have been completed. The four countries that will be permitted to market their ivory are Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

An elated Kenya Wildlife Service director Julius Kipng'etich described the breakthrough as, "Africa's finest hour, a proud moment for the continent, its people and the elephant."

"At least CITES can now focus on other endangered species in the subsequent conference of parties as we put mechanisms in place to address the escalating illegal killing of elephants and trade in ivory across the elephant range both in Africa and Asia," Kipng'etich said after the deal was struck at 2 am.

Kenya had proposed a 20 year moratorium on ivory sales, supported by 21 "like-minded parties" including Mali, Ghana, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger, Togo, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Burundi, Nigeria, Liberia, Comoros, Congo Brazzaville and Cote d'Ivoire.

Arguing that their elephant herds are healthy and well-maintained, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe proposed an easing of the trade ban.

CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers leads the Convention of 171 countries from its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. (Photo courtesy ENB)
"This African solution to an African problem marks a great step forward for wildlife conservation," said CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers. "It is good news for the elephant, good news for the people who live alongside them and good news for regional cooperation in Africa."

Zimbabwean Environment and Tourism minister Francis Nhema, who chaired the African elephant range negotiations, views the compromise document as a classic win-win situation.

He said once the CITES meeting as a whole approves the document on Friday, the last day of the conference, the world would have taken over from the African range states and "it will be a statement by the whole world on biodiversity."

Environment and Tourism Minister of Zimbabwe Francis Nhema (Photo courtesy ENB)
"Those who were not expecting a resolution must join us in this celebration," Nhema said. "This resolution keeps humanity living side by side with our natural resources."

In an effort to bridge their differences, the African elephant range States met separately throughout the course of the current CITES Conference, which opened June 3.

Yesterday, Conference President Gerda Verburg, Dutch Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, told journalists that the divisive elephant ivory debate was a "very important and delicate issue" best left to the African range states to decide among themselves.

Dutch Minister of Environment, Agriculture and Food Quality Gerda Verburg briefed media on the ministerial discussions. (Photo courtesy ENB)
"It's not a good thing to interfere with their negotiations," she said at a press briefing on the inaugural inter-ministerial roundtable meeting Wednesday. The roundtable was attended by 50 ministers from the African elephant range states.

Part of the agreement is that during the nine year interim period, the CITES Standing Committee will work on developing a new and more effective approach to making future decisions on the international ivory trade.

The elephant range states also agreed on the establishment of an African Elephant Fund to collectively address the long term issues of elephant conservation.

"This consensus is a milestone in elephant history," said Dr. Susan Lieberman, director of WWF Global Species Programme. "This is the first time in more than 20 years that opposing factions are now speaking with one voice to move this debate forward."

Despite the controversy surrounding "one off" ivory sales and ivory trade suspensions, the more substantive issues are illegal domestic ivory markets, both in Africa and Asia, according to WWF and the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

Lieberman lamented that fact that time ran out at the Conference to deal with "the critical threat to elephants in the wild poaching and illegal domestic ivory markets."

An Elephant Trade Information System analysis reveals that key problem countries for illegal ivory are the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Cameroon, Thailand and China.

Tusks from elephants illegally slaughtered in southern Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other African countries are carved into souvenirs for tourists. (Photo by Esmond Martin courtesy Care for the Wild International)
"We are looking for real conservation achievement on the ground," said Tom Milliken, of TRAFFIC, director of TRAFFIC South and East Africa. "Let countries now take this spirit of goodwill and tackle the ivory that is being hemorrhaged illegally from West and Central Africa."

The International Fund for Animal Welfare, IFAW, says that at least 20,000 elephants are killed annually for their ivory and the lives of about 100 rangers are lost each year protecting them.

IFAW supported Kenya and Mali's original proposal for a 20 year ban. The organization applauds the acceptance of an official, long-term suspension of trade in ivory, but is cautious about allowing sales of more ivory above the 60 metric tons approved by the Standing Committee last week.

"This is not the ideal situation," said IFAW Elephant Program Manager Michael Wamithi. "We believe that any amount of ivory in the market serves as a trigger mechanism for increased poaching and we are therefore concerned about the strain that these additional sales will put on range states' already stressed enforcement capacities."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.