Kenya Rallies Support for 20 Year Elephant Ivory Trade Ban

NAIROBI, Kenya, May 28, 2007 (ENS) - Thousands of Kenyans marched in the streets of Nairobi on Sunday morning to highlight their country's proposal for a 20 year ban on trade in elephant ivory to the Conference of Parties for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES, set for June 3 to 16 in the Hague, The Netherlands.

The colorful procession at the city's Uhuru Park was addressed by Kenya Wildlife Service Director Julius Kipng'etich. The crowd observed a minute's moment of silence in honor of the three KWS rangers who were fatally shot by poachers last week while protecting wildlife.

Kipng'etich said the loss of three rangers is an indication of what would happen if the current ban on trade in elephant ivory is lifted. The ban has been in place since 1989, but has been challenged at nearly every CITES meeting since it was imposed.

The procession in Nairobi Sunday is "one of the last ditch efforts by the Kenyan Government to win supporters for its proposal for a ban on ivory trade to remain in force for at least 20 years," said Kenya Wildlife Service spokesman Paul Udoto.

Kenya Wildlife Service Director Julius Kipng'etich, right, and Dickson Lesimirdana of the Wildlife Protection Unit, center, lead Kenyans in a procession in Nairobi Sunday. (Photo courtesy Kenya Wildlife Service)
The proposal by Kenya and Mali for a 20 year moratorium on ivory trade has been submitted to the triennial CITES conference that opens next week.

The proposal has won wide support among African countries.

While some southern African elephant range states say they have "too many" elephants, the IUCN-World Conservation Union put the continental elephant population at between 472,269 and 689,653 animals in its African Elephant Status Report 2007.

This is about 10 to 20 percent of the number of elephants in Africa in the 1930s and 1940s. The ivory trade is known to be behind most of the killings.

Last week, Kenya hosted 11 other African countries at an African Consultative Workshop in Nairobi to plan ways of lobbying other countries to uphold and extend the ivory trade ban.

Eleven of the 12 countries attending the consultative meeting supported the 20 year moratorium on ivory trade. They believe that allowing any trade in ivory will increase the poaching of elephants.


Elephants killed for their tusks. Kenya, 1988. (Photo courtesy EIA)
At the consultative meeting, Kenya, Mali, Togo, Cote D'Ivoire, Burundi, Rwanda, Nigeria, Southern Sudan, Sierra Leone, Congo Brazzaville and Chad supported the moratorium. DRC Congo and Ghana did not attend the meeting but have already stated their support for the proposal.

The Uganda delegate said he needed more consultation with the Ugandan Government before either supporting or opposing the 20 year moratorium.

On Friday, the Kenya-Mali proposal received support from Europe, when the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the EU objectives for the CITES conference. The resolution adopted 546 to 13 urges the Commission and the 27 EU member states to support the 20 year ivory trade ban.

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 a stock of ivory to Japan totalling 50 metric tons. The sales took place in 1999 and earned about US$5 million.

In 2002, CITES agreed in principle to allow a second sale from Botswana of 20 metric tons, a sale from Namibia of 10 metric tons, and a sale from South Africa of 30 metric tons.

The one-time sales were made conditional on the ability of the MIKE program - the acronym stands for Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants - to establish up-to-date and comprehensive baseline data on elephant poaching and population levels.

MIKE was established to provide an objective assessment of what impact future ivory sales may have on elephant populations and poaching. To date, CITES has not determined that the MIKE baseline data have been assembled, and so the sales have not taken place.

CITES says this issue will be revisited when the CITES Standing Committee meets again in The Hague on June 2, the day before the Conference of Parties opens.

Elephants in Botswana, where elephant herds number about 120,000 (Photo courtesy Botswana Tourism)
For this year's conference, Botswana and Namibia have jointly submitted a new proposal to ease the conditions for permitting future sales of ivory while maintaining the elephant populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe in CITES Appendix II, which allows trade subject to strict regulation.

In addition, Botswana is requesting authorization for a one time sale of 40 metric tons of existing ivory stocks followed by an annual export quota of up to eight tons from its national elephant population.

African elephant range states will meet May 30 to June 1 in The Hague to seek a common position on their proposal to CITES.

In Nairobi Sunday, Kipng'etich called on countries with demand for ivory, especially Japan and China, to ban the trade in ivory to save elephants.

"We control supply but the countries where demand is high should equally help us save the world's elephants," he said.

"The moment you create demand for any product, somebody has to supply it. Unfortunately, in the case of ivory, elephants in Africa have to be killed to satisfy this insatiable demand," Kipng'etich said. "Only elephants should wear ivory."

Kenya Wildlife Service Director Julius Kipng'etich, left, and a local police official examine a gun recovered from poachers last week in the Tana River District. (Photo courtesy KWS)
Although some southern African countries, especially Botswana with its 120,000 elephants, could be suffering from their large populations, ivory trade is not the panacea, Kipng'etich said.

"Kenya is willing to offer its elephant experts to help in managing elephant populations, including trying contraception and translocation," he said.

When independence from British rule was declared in December 1963, Kenya had 167,000 elephants, but by 1989 their numbers had plummeted to 16,000, said Udoto of the Kenya Wildlife Service.

Although the number of elephants have since increased to 30,000, Kenya fears that the threat of insecurity is still too present for the ban on ivory trade to be lifted.

Within the region, there are an estimated two million illegal small arms.

Kipng'etich says the 20 year moratorium proposal is meant to give African range states time to mop up the illegal arms as well as "to do the proper science of the business of wildlife conservation,"

"If we don't protect our wildlife," he said, "future generations will deliver a harsh judgement on us."