A call to resume the legal ivory trade
for the first time in nearly a quarter-century as one means of fighting
the recent rise in elephant poaching in Africa was expected to dominate
the debate at a U.N. conservation meeting that began Monday.
The proposal was put forward in a report commissioned by
the 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, a
treaty overseen by the UN Environment Program in Geneva. It would set
up a centralized system to allow for the sale of ivory from elephants
that either died naturally or as a result of trophy hunting, or were
considered a threat or culled for ecological reasons.
This is the first time such a proposal has been made since a
global ban on ivory went into effect in 1989. That ban halted widespread
poaching but it has steadily worsened since 2004 amid Asian demand for
ivory chopsticks, statues and jewelry.
the present rise in illegal killing of elephants in West, Central and
East Africa, it is clear that current measures are not containing the
present upsurge in the illegal trade in ivory," the report concludes.
"The tendency to ascribe this increase to the sale of stockpiled ivory
in 2008 diverts attention away from the far more serious problems
relating to the inability of African countries to invest in protecting
their elephants —I thinjk an observation that begs the question of what
incentives are there for them to do so?"
proposal — which would still need to be voted on at the CITES meeting
next year in Bangkok— was expected to set off a fierce debate especially
among African delegates.
countries, where the majority of elephants are, want some form of legal
trade to help pay for their conservation efforts and sell off already
growing ivory stocks. Central and East African countries have in the
past opposed any legal trade, fearing it will undermine conservation
efforts and further bolster the illegal trade.
Environmentalists, too, have come out against the proposal because they
argue that the reasons behind it — that legal trade would help reduce
ivory prices, and thus demand — remain unproven.
A proposal for one-off sales by Tanzania and Zambia at the 2010 CITES meeting in Doha was defeated.
Mary Rice, executive director of the London-based
Environmental Investigation Agency, said her research advocacy group,
which has campaigned against the illegal trade for two decades, "remains
deeply concerned that any more 'legal' sales — or discussion of 'legal'
sales — of ivory will further stimulate the ivory market, supporting
the perception that international trade has resumed and increasing
demand for illegal ivory."
The rise in rhino
poaching will also be on the agenda with several measures to tackle the
illegal hunting, mostly in South Africa. Among the issues will how
better regulate the trophy hunting trade and making greater use of DNA
technologies to trace the horns that are seized to help convict the
poachers and traffickers.
A report by the
advocacy group WWF International released at the Geneva meeting found
that Vietnam was "the major destination" for rhino horns trafficked from
South Africa, where 448 rhinos were poached last year.
In Asia, rhino horn can fetch the equivalent of US street
values for cocaine. It is crushed and consumed by people in Asia who
believe — wrongly, doctors say — that it can cure diseases including
cancer, fever and even hangovers. (nvn)