Published: Tuesday March 30, 2010 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Friday June 14, 2013 MYT 1:59:03 AM

Still a ‘no’

The 21-year-old ban on ivory sales stays.

In one of the few positive outcomes of the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in Doha, Qatar, countries rejected proposals by Zambia and Tanzania to reopen trade in ivory that experts say would have worsened a surge in illegal trafficking driven by Asian-based organised crime.

After a tense debate, they voted down Tanzania’s request to sell 80.5 tonnes of stockpiled ivory to Japan and China. Zambia later withdrew its own bid for a one-off sale of 21.7 tonnes worth several million dollars.

Efforts by both countries to down-list wild populations of the intelligent mammals to a lower level of protection were also slapped down in separate votes.

“We are sitting on a treasure that we are not allowed to use to help our population, to help the poor build schools and roads,” said Stanslaus Komba, from Tanzania’s ministry of natural resources.

The move to reopen the ivory trade – banned since 1989 with the exception of a few one-time sales – comes on the heels of a dramatic surge in illegal trafficking since 2005.

“Large-scale ivory seizures are becoming not only more frequent but larger in size,” said Tom Milliken, head of the Elephant Trade Information System.

Organised crime syndicates in Asia have also gotten into the act to satisfy growing demand in the region, he said. In Africa, the countries most directly involved in the traffic have been Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, while in Asia activity was particularly high in Thailand, he added.

Some 25 tonnes of the precious material – culled from an estimated 2,600 elephants – were confiscated last year, mainly in Asia, according to wildlife trade monitoring group Traffic.

All told, tens of thousands of elephants are likely butchered every year for their tusks, experts say. Poachers have taken to using heavy arms to carry out military-style operations, leaving local law enforcement outmatched.

Except for populations in four southern African nations, African elephants in two dozen other range states are listed on Cites Appendix I, which bans cross-border trade. Tanzania and Zambia sought a down-listing to the less restrictive Appendix II, which allows commerce if it is monitored and deemed sustainable.

The one-off sales would have netted about US$13mil (RM45.5mil) said Traffic. The last such sale in 2008 by Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe set the clock running on a nine-year moratorium on international ivory sales, agreed upon at the last Cites meeting in 2007.

The recent surge in seizures has caused officials to question whether one-off sales stimulate illegal trade rather than stem it, as was once thought.

“In the last three years, the population of the Selous game reserve in Tanzania has declined by 30,000 elephants,” said Sam Wasser, director of the University of Washington’s Centre for Conservation Biology.

“Tanzania argues that they have just moved, but where did they go?”

Wasserman’s laboratory has pieced together a genetic map of African elephants based on DNA taken from dung samples that will allow police to trace seized ivory to its origin.

Conservation and wildlife groups applauded the decisions.

“It is not the right time to be approving ivory sales due to increased elephant poaching in central and western Africa,” said the WWF’s head of species programme, Carlos Drews.

A separate proposal backed by 23 other elephant range nations that would have extended the trade moratorium on ivory trade to 20 years, was withdrawn at the last minute. – AFP

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